LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter XIII

Contents Vol. I
Prelude 1
Prelude 2
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Contents Vol. II
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
‣ Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Note to Chapter XV
Contents Vol. III
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Note to Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Note to Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Note to Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Index of Persons
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WHEN I had entered upon the publication of pictorial works, which had become a marked feature of my business, I was naturally led, as one serial approached its completion, to look around me for its fit successor. The Bible, the History of England, were books of universal interest, in which I could carry out my plan of rendering wood-cuts real illustrations of the text, instead of fanciful devices—true eye-knowledge, sometimes more instructive than words. There was one large subject capable of such treatment. It was once the fashion to illustrate Pennant’sLondon” with prints of every age and character. There could be no want of authentic materials for such a book as I contemplated.

Many descriptions of the great capital, whose past history is as interesting as its present state, had appeared at various periods. In the age of Elizabeth, John Stow published his “Survey of London, conteyning the originall, antiquity, increase, moderne estate and description of that citie.” The worthy citizen of London has been fortunate in the eulogy of his modern editor, William J. Thoms, who to the learning of the antiquary unites the graces of the accomplished writer. Well has he said in his introductory notice, “If it were given to the reader to wield for a brief space the staff of Prospero, with
power to conjure up a vision of London as it existed in some former period, there can be little doubt but that he would so employ his art that the London of
Shakspeare should stand revealed before him. Happily, although Prospero’s staff is broken, the conjurations of the mighty magic necessary to call up this busy pageant were lodged in the untiring pen of honest John Stow.” In the latter years of the Commonwealth, James Howell published his “Londinopolis; Historical Discourse and Perlustration of London.” This is the city in which Milton had dwelt, as a boy, beneath his father’s roof in Bread Street, to the time of his death in 1674, a blind old man. Then came laborious antiquaries to delve amongst registers and tomb-stones, with a taste far inferior to the historians who had gone before them. There was a field open to the light essayist; and Leigh Hunt made a very pleasant but very imperfect book of literary gossip about authors and players. As a subject for a pictorial book of some extent, I decided upon publishing “London” in weekly numbers. It was commenced in 1841; it was finished in 1844. I undertook the general conduct of the work. I had valuable contributors in Mr. Craik, Mr. Saunders, Mr. Weir, Mr. Platt, Mr. Dodd, Mr. Planché, and Mr. Fairholt. I adopted the plan of giving the names of the authors of each paper in a table of contents of the several volumes. The proportions in which each contributed to a work extending to two thousand five hundred pages will thus be seen. Instead of dwelling upon the individual merits of the contributors, I shall here very briefly attempt to notice some of the aspects of the London of Queen Victoria, chiefly as
compared with its characteristics during centuries of change.

I believe I may claim to have given a title to the Thames which is now familiarly used, “The Silent Highway.” I begin the first number with one of the most remarkable pictures of ancient manners which has been transmitted to us—Gower’s description of Richard the Second being rowed in his stately barge, and calling to the poet, in his little boat, to come on board amongst the great lords and ladies of his suite. It was four hundred and fifty years ago when the minstrel and the monarch were together,
“In Thames when it was flowing.”
With the exception of some of the oldest portions of the Tower of London, there is scarcely a brick or a stone that can present a memorial of the City which Gower calls New Troy. We have to pass through the long reign of the watermen from the time of
John Norman, the first Mayor of London, who was rowed to Westminster instead of riding, to the days when even the watermen had become a portion of the antiquities of London—the days of the Penny Steamboat. Equally remarkable are the contrasts between the circumstances of the times when London was without coaches—when no sound of wheels was heard but that of the cart labouring through the rutty ways—and those of the period when the hackney-coach, having flourished for two hundred years, was at last annihilated by the omnibus and the cab. But a revolution was impending, twenty years ago, whose issue no one can entirely foresee. In 1844 there were ten railway termini in London.
Their contemplated union by new lines may again change the whole system of internal communication, if the lords of the iron-way, who ruthlessly pierce our ant-hill, should leave the ants any ground in which they may burrow in peace.

We walk through the great thoroughfares. Where are the open shops in which, up to the time of Queen Anne, the vendible articles were exposed to the street without any barrier of glass? Very slow were the steps by which the windows of small squares were superseded by the magnificent sheets of plate-glass, which, in honour of the man who abolished the glass duties, might be called Peel’s memorial. Commercial architecture, too, has wholly changed. The palatial buildings of London are now the city warehouses. The famous city houses of the old nobility and the merchant princes have been long since annihilated, with the exception of a few relics preserved for show. Not many of them remained at the beginning of the eighteenth century. If domestic Architecture flourished little amongst us until the days of club magnificence, neither has Sculpture done much for the adornment of the streets of London. There is some fatality about this matter. We cannot finish the Nelson Testimonial, which was nearly completed in 1844. We cannot add to the public statues of London—which consist of thirteen kings and queens, four warriors, and three or four statesmen—a single monument of those, who, dwelling within the metropolitan limits, have made our language immortal and universal—not one of her men of science, not one of her great artists, not a Newton, not a Reynolds.

The new public buildings that have sprang up
since the reign of
George the Fourth were created rather by some imperative necessity than by a systematic design to make them worthy of the ancient seat of royalty and legislation, the great market of the world, and the centre of arts and learning. Thus, if the old Houses of Parliament had not been burnt down in 1834, we should have had no structure such as that produced by Mr. Barry, which, with some faults, may preserve the name of the architect for posterity, as the man who erected one grand monument in a somewhat tasteless age, even as Wren built St. Paul’s in an age little famous for the cultivation of high art. In 1844, the buildings were far short of completion, but enough was done to show the general character of the edifice, and how worthily it would some day leave not a wreck behind of the miserable facade by which Soane deformed Westminster Hall. The present Post Office, completed by Smirke in 1830, was an absolute necessity for meeting that vast increase of business which could scarcely be carried on in the old buildings of Lombard Street. Large and convenient as it is, one of the departments—that of the Money Order—which has grown out of Penny Postage, is carried on in a separate building. In 1845, the old Montague House, which from 1753 had been our British Museum, was finally destroyed. The nation had desired that something larger and nobler should be erected than the building which, for half a century, had held little more than Sir Hans Sloane’s collection, and the Cotton and Harleian MSS.—an edifice worthy to receive the Elgin Marbles, the Townley Gallery, and the King’s Library. Our National Museum was commenced from the designs of Smirke,
in 1823. His portico was finished in 1845. Great have been the additions and changes during another twenty years. Priceless treasures are still crying for houseroom. What has been done is but an earnest of what remains to do, for there can be no limit as long as England wills that she shall not be behind other nations in securing the best trophies of civilization.

The restoration of a few of the old ecclesiastical buildings of London had indicated, in 1844, the growth of a reverence for our beautiful monuments of ancient piety. It is a feature, not only of an improved taste but of a higher spirit, that in this particular, and in the general respect for antiquity, we had thrown off the shackles that bound down the previous generation to erect structures of mere utility and to neglect most of the beautiful things that time had spared. The restoration of St. Mary Overies was completed about 1840, but it was with great difficulty that the exquisite Lady Chapel could be preserved, for the despotism of London traffic insolently demanded its removal. The genius of barbarism, in this case, was not triumphant. The restoration of the Temple Church was accomplished without any such differences. The work was altogether in the hands of educated men. But the revival of a taste for Gothic architecture had, in some respects, a fatal influence upon the character of the new churches of London, as upon those that were springing up in every diocese. They were something better than the bald specimens of Georgian architecture, but they were to a great extent servile imitations of buildings characteristic of another form of worship. Happily the mistakes were gradually corrected, and it began
to be perceived that a modern Gothic church might have some originality of adaptation, although parts had been derived from ancient examples.

The Old Spring-time in London, with its Maypoles and its Arthur’s Show, its playing at bucklers and its maids dancing for garlands, had given place to the chimney-sweepers; and they were fast fading into obscurity when the Legislature substituted long brooms for climbing boys. A quarter of a century ago we were complaining that the healthful enjoyments of the great body of the people were not sufficiently cared for in our Parks and public walks. Happily the age of exclusiveness is passed. We form new Parks on the East and on the South of London, amidst crowded populations, who, most of all, want fresh air. The old aristocratic haunts are become places of recreation for the commonalty, where they linger under the branching elms, or wander through trimly kept paths, bordered with evergreens and summer flowers. There can be no better proof that the people are cared for, than in the revival of fountains in the crowded thoroughfares. The conduits of the Tudor days are gone. The toiling housewife no longer fills her pitcher at the lion’s mouth of the sculptured column. The water-carriers are extinct. But private benevolence has furnished the great city with the means of offering a cup of water to the thirsty pedestrian; and now acceptable is the gift may be seen every minute.

What stranger in the metropolis, taking up his lodging in or near the great thoroughfares, would now expect to hear any of those famous London Cries of which his father or his grandfather used so eloquently to discourse. All the poetical cries are
gone, with the exception of “Strawberries, ripe,” which has survived since the days of
Henry V. “Cherry ripe” was married two centuries ago to poetry, which became popular when it had gushed from the lips of Madame Vestris. The costermonger has monopolised all the old cries of radishes, onions, and cucumbers, but his loud voice is heard most in the suburbs. There the musical cries still linger. Cats’-meat is proclaimed in one district by a fine tenor voice, in remarkable contrast to the bawling of the costermonger. The tinkle of the muffin-man remains; but we can well spare the clang of the dustman’s bell. The itinerant traders necessarily become scarcer amidst the growth of shops in every new district. So it is with the old street sights. Punch survives. The acrobat occasionally spreads his carpet in a cul-de-sac, but the raree-showman is no more. Italian boys have their white mice and their monkeys, but the dancing bear belongs to the dim antiquity of the age of George III. The mountebanks long survived the public-spirited artist of Hammersmith, described by the “Spectator” with a keen relish of the impudent fellow’s wit. No Merry Andrew now vends his nostrums in the streets. We must now take the physic without the jest. Advertisements have superseded the harangues of the quack doctor, and thus Morrison’s Pills and Old Parr’s Life Pills are not defrauded of their fair fame by the want of trumpeters.

A witty friend eulogising porter exclaimed, “Always drink it out of pewter; never drink it out of the Bills of Mortality.” The commentator must explain what is meant by the Bills of Mortality. They were the weekly Death Registers of a time
when the Londoners were exceedingly sensitive about any increase in the average number of deaths, for such increase was considered as a sign that the plague was in the crowded city, and those who could afford it fled terror-stricken. These bills were commenced in 1592, and went regularly on until 1842. The districts in which the parish clerks, with a band of matrons called searchers, performed the functions of registration were “within the Bills of Mortality.” The “true bills” of the parish clerks were necessarily imperfect, and wholly unscientific. In January, 1840, the reports under the Registration Act were commenced, and we are now fully able to appreciate the great impulse to sanitary reforms, which has been given by such enlightened chronicles as those which issue from the office of the Registrar-General. The old reports of the Bills of Mortality were connected with the system of London burials. The horrible abuse of pestilent graveyards in the heart of the densest population has come to an end. Ever honoured be that Committee of the House of Commons, which, in their report of 1842, described the state of things which the Londoners had long endured as “an instance of the most wealthy, moral, and civilised community of the world, tolerating a practice and an abuse which has been corrected for years by nearly all other civilised nations in every part of the globe.” The year 1844 saw the beginning of a reformation in London, which, in twenty years, has been fully accomplished. The example has gradually spread over the whole country. Churches and churchyards have ceased to offend our senses and endanger our lives. “The house appointed for all living” has become a place of decency and sometimes
of beauty, in accordance with the true spirit of religion, which sees nothing odious in death.

Cobbett called the great city the Wen, and he denounced with his utmost vigour the all-devouring maw which swallowed up the corn and cattle raised by the labour of the country. He knew perfectly well—especially when upon his farm of Botley he raised precocious lambs for the London market—that the wonderful adjustment of the demand and supply was the best proof of the healthy condition of the system of exchange under which town and country were equally thriving. Since Cobbett wrote, what changes have been wrought in the supply of food for London! The Corn Exchange, rebuilt in 1827, is now but an imperfect type of the enormous transactions which mark the era of Free Trade as compared with that of Protection. During this epoch, when the lean beasts of the Continent had come to be fattened in our rich pastures, and the farmers of England have learnt that their profits did not wholly depend upon the high price of wheat, the old Smithfield has vanished. Corporate prescription long clung to its abominations. They are gone. A far more convenient cattle-market in the northern suburb has freed our streets from the terrors of over-driven oxen; and the time is fast approaching when beastly slaughter-houses beneath the shadow of St. Paul’s will give place to cleanly abattoirs outside the town. Billingsgate is a changed place. Amongst the blessings bestowed on communities by steam navigation and railways, the rapid supply and the consequent cheapness of fish is not the least important. It is the same with the wonderful supply of fruit and vegetables to Covent Garden. But the material changes
in this famous market are equally remarkable. About 1830,
Mr. Walker, a metropolitan magistrate, wrote: “What must necessarily be the moral state of the numerous class constantly exposed to the changes of the weather, amidst the mud and putridities of Covent Garden? What ought it to be, where the occupation is amongst vegetables, fruits, and flowers, if there were well-regulated accommodations?” The evil was not long without a remedy. The present market is ample and convenient for all wholesale transactions. The centre arcade, in the spring and summer season, presents a sight unsurpassed by any capital in Europe, testifying to the perfection which the gardens and hot-houses of England have attained since Maitland, one of the dullest of London topographers, in describing Covent Garden as a magnificent square, says, “wherein, to its great disgrace, is kept a herb and fruit market.” But if the London food-markets have changed, greater is the change in the public places where food is consumed. The old coffee-houses of the days of Addison are no longer frequented by beaux and wits. They are either extinct, or have become common eating-houses. But something much better for human happiness than “White’s” and “The Grecian” have sprung up in London within the last quarter of a century. It was given in evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons in 1840, that there were eighteen hundred coffee-shops in London where the artizan might take his breakfast with comfort and even with luxury. John Wilson Croker, about this time, was correcting a proof at a printing-office on the Surrey side, when he found that he wanted his breakfast. There was no tavern or hotel near, so he boldly said he would
try one of the new coffee-shops. He came back marvellously impressed with a fresh aspect of society. He had breakfasted, for fourpence, as well as ever in his life; everything was clean; the behaviour of the company was of the best; and he had read the “
Times” of that morning, and had seen the last Quarterly well thumbed. Mr. Humphries, a coffee-shop keeper, told the Committee of the House of Commons that since he had been in business a manifest improvement had taken place in the taste for literature amongst the classes who frequented his house. But at this period there was a marked deficiency in the London arrangements for public refreshment. There was no place, for example, where a lady, fatigued perhaps by a railway journey, could obtain a luncheon better than the bun and the indigestible meat-pie of the pastrycook. She could not obtain a glass of wine unless she chose to pay for a private room at a tavern, and be charged an extortionate price for a biscuit and a glass of sherry. The magic wand of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has changed all this. There is scarcely a pastrycook’s where a chop cannot be procured, and, most wonderful, the monopoly of the inn-keeper has been destroyed, and wine for the sustentation of nature may be sold in the smallest quantity without incurring the old penalties of the excise.

Some of the social changes of London are indicated by the altered character of its amusements. Ranelagh disappeared in 1805. Vauxhall was still brilliant with its variegated lamps and its fireworks not ten years ago. But the glories of the place now abide only in the pages of Addison, and Goldsmith, and Walpole. The Mahomedan Paradise—where Sir Roger de
Coverley heard the chorus of birds that sung upon the trees, and looked upon the loose tribe of people who walked under their shade—had become more genteel when
Lady Caroline Petersham debarked at Vauxhall, picked up Lord Granby very drunk, and seven chickens were minced into a china dish, which the lady stewed over a lamp. The arcades of Vauxhall have perished. The concert is no longer performed under the auspices of the statue of Handel. The glee-singers now render Canterbury Hall, and fifty other metropolitan saloons, somewhat refined amidst tobacco-smoke and brandy-and-water. These, too, will give place to some new form of social fife, as Cremorne has driven out Vauxhall. But the memories even of these fleeting things will survive, for there was never an age of London in which the shifting aspects of its many-coloured life have not been reflected by its poets and its essayists. London has sent forth its literature through four centuries to the uttermost ends of the earth, and is full, therefore, not only of material monuments of the past, but of the more abiding memorials which exist in imperishable books. Thus the Tabard Inn, at Southwark, had in the reign of Victoria become a waggoners’ yard, with its accompanying liquor-shop and tap-room. But Chaucer’s immortal picture of “that hostelrie” and its guests remained to us. East Cheap had lost all its ancient characteristics in the improvements of London Bridge, but Lydgate showed us that, long before the days of Shakspere,
There was harp, pipe, and minstrelsy.”
Finsbury and Islington were covered with interminable rows of houses, but
Ben Jonson called to mind
“the archers of Finsbury, or the citizens that come a-ducking to Islington ponds.” The Devil Tavern, with its Apollo Club, had perished, but Jonson’s verses over the door of the Apollo Room still gave it life. The River Fleet no longer ran across Holborn, but
Pope recalled that polluted stream—
“Than whom no sluice of mud
With deeper sable blots the silver flood.”
Since Pope wrote of this ditch, the sluices of mud have made the silver flood a leaden one. The glories of “White’s,” and “Will’s,” and “The Grecian,” and “The St. James’s,” had passed away, in the fall of Coffee-houses and the rise of Clubs, but we yet live in the social life of the days of Anne, and people the solitary Coffee-houses with imaginary
Swifts and Addisons and Steeles, even as Thackeray has called them again from the neglected “Tatlers” and “Spectators.” The literary memorials of London are amongst her best antiquities.

The materials for judging of the social aspects of the metropolis a quarter of a century ago, are chiefly to be found in the Periodical Literature of that time; as the social aspects of the century previous are to be traced in the magazines and reviews which had started into existence in the time of George II. Even the “Penny Magazine,” although rarely dealing with matters of temporary interest that belonged rather to newspapers, occasionally touched upon passing manners. The number of December 30th, 1837, is occupied by an article entitled “London Extremes—Hyde Park and Rag Fair.” To see Hyde Park in its full glory, according to this writer, he would select a fine dry Sunday of the spring time. The
eye-witness arrives at Hyde Park about four o’clock; the throng of carriages and horses seems to increase every minute, and becomes extreme about five o’clock. “Dukes, merchants, barristers, and bankers are all intermingled; parliament men on horseback—for Sunday is a dies non in the senate—bow to ladies whose figures and complexion make Frenchmen and Prussians talk with rapture of the beauties of England; tall footmen, shining in scarlet and lace, exchange knowing looks with smart diminutive tigers, in frock coats and top-boots, who cling behind bachelor-looking cabriolets. By-and-by an occasional carriage may be seen to break out of the circle, and disappear by one of the gates—for the hour of dinner draws nigh. At six o’clock there is a visible declension in the numbers; and after that time the bustle dies rapidly away.” When another generation shall be turning over the countless heaps of newspapers and other weekly sheets to see what Hyde Park was in the spring of 1864, they will find that the fashionable carriages and elegant equestrians, male and female, have vanished from this resort on a Sunday in the season, as completely as the May-day observances, which
Pepys thus preserves from oblivion in his diary of the 30th of April, 1661:—“I am sorry I am not at London to be at Hyde Park to-morrow morning among the great gallants and ladies, which will be very fine.”

Hyde Park on a Sunday is now wholly given up to vulgar pedestrians—fashion shuns it. It is not genteel “to take the air on a Sunday.” Fascinating apprentices ogle smart shop-girls. Change here rules supreme. Spread over the green sward a year or two ago were knots of people gathered round field-
preachers. As the evening closed in, the motley throng gradually cleared away. The sensible artisan and his wearied spouse wend their way back to their dwelling “in city close ypent,” and the well-got-up shopman, who has been airing his hack in Rotten Row, takes the poor jade home to the stable-keeper.

“It is a long walk from Hyde Park to Rag Fair,” says the “Penny Magazine” essayist. Such a place as Rag Fair, at the extreme east of London, is one of its antiquities. It certainly belongs to another condition of society. “Its glory,” continues the “Penny Magazine,” “like that of many other things of the olden time, waxes dim. It was otherwise when gentlemen wore huge wigs, gold and silver-laced suits, blue or scarlet silk stockings with gold or silver clocks; lace neckcloths; square-toed short-quartered shoes with high red heels and small buckles; very long and formally-curled perukes, black riding-wigs, and nightcap-wigs; small three-cornered hats, laced with gold or silver galloon, and sometimes trimmed with feathers; and, to crown all, the never-failing sword dangling at the heels.” It was once the rival of Monmouth Street, whose fame survives in play and poem. To both of these marts many a faded dandy of his day, whose credit with the tailor was broken up, and many a poor coxcomb of pretension, trying to ape his superiors in externals, were fain to sneak. They were once a refuge for the broken-down, but not for the destitute. Even at a more recent period, when cloth became the general material for the coat, and velvet, silk, satin and embroidery, were reserved for court dresses, or waistcoats and breeches only, the dearness of cloth made these places a very great convenience to people of
limited means. But, now, thanks to machinery, and to that taste which has produced such a simplicity in male attire, nobody but the very poorest need resort to Rag Fair.

In 1844, the seed that had been broadcast over the land had produced a supply of Periodical Literature, far too great for such careful thrashing and winnowing as may be advantageously bestowed upon the early essayists and magazine writers, in any attempt to trace the characteristics of the age. The vast increase of this species of publication may be attributed in some degree to the excitement, whether for purposes of business or pleasure, that had grown out of rapid travelling, cheap postal communication, and many other circumstances that cause the journey of life to be performed at a quicker pace. Fragmentary reading was an inevitable result of the new condition of society. I thought it a vast increase of this species of literature, as compared with the era of high-priced books, when I published the following statements:—On Saturday, May the 4th, 1844, the number of weekly periodical works issued in London was about sixty. The monthly issue of periodical literature was unequalled by any similar commercial operation in Europe, there being two hundred and twenty-seven monthly works sent out on the last day of May, 1844, from Paternoster Row, in addition to thirty-eight works published quarterly. To complete this account of the commerce of the periodical press, I added the number of newspapers published in the United Kingdom, which amounted to four hundred and forty-seven Of these seventy-nine were London newspapers.* In the days of the newspaper stamp,

* “William Caxton; a Biography.” Postscript.

the number printed could be given with the utmost accuracy from the official returns. How vast has been the increase since the total change in our fiscal laws with regard to the press, was recently exhibited in some very curious estimates submitted to the House of Commons by
Mr. Edward Baines. It is scarcely necessary to say that such estimates can only approximate to the truth, but they are valuable as far as they go; and I may hope in my subsequent volume to verify them by such inquiries as I have instituted at former periods of my working life as a publisher.