LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter VI

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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IT had always been with me an earnest hope that when knowledge had been widely spread amongst all ranks of the community, it would be a fitting time to propose the erection of some public monument to the memory of William Caxton. The English were certainly not a people given to such demonstrations, except they were moved to this species of hero-worship by the deeds of contemporary warriors and statesmen. The spirit of nationality had erected a monument to Burns, but there was scarcely any other instance of a great poet having this tribute offered to his memory, so as to arrest the attention of the passers-by, either at the place of his birth, or in some city which he had illustrated by his abode. We had no monument to Shakspere or to Milton, to Bacon or Newton, in the Metropolis. It is only within a few years that there was any memorial whatever to our greatest interpreter of the laws of nature. It is not easy to discover what in this matter is the essential difference between the English and the Continental character. In Paris, in the great French cities, in Belgium, in Germany, in Holland, you are reminded at every step of some great poet, or painter, or musician—of the greatest of those who have built up the glory of their land in all its peaceful and civilizing processes—a glory perhaps
more enduring than that of the soldier and the politician. I thought that William Caxton was a name that would provoke no controversial opinions, and that, as he was essentially connected with the local history of Westminster, the neighbourhood of the old Almonry, where he set up his press, would be a fitting place for a statue to remind the population of London of what this skilful artificer had done for them. In my little volume of “
William Caxton, a Biography,” published in 1844, the following passage refers to the city in which our first printer was held to have learnt his art:—“Cologne rendered the name of Caxton a bright and venerable name—a name that even his countrymen, who are accustomed chiefly to raise columns and statues to the warlike defenders of their country, will one day honour amongst the heroes who have most successfully cultivated the arts of peace, and by high talent and patient labour have rendered it impossible that mankind should not steadily advance in the acquisition of knowledge and virtue, and in the consequent amelioration of the lot of every member of the family of mankind at some period, present or remote.”

The anticipation which I thus expressed appeared to have a fair chance of being realised when the Rev. H. H. Milman, then Rector of St. Margaret’s, suggested that the improvements of Westminster should be associated with a memorial to Caxton. This eminent scholar and accomplished writer, in a letter to Viscount Morpeth, said, “The character of the monument might be this—a fountain (of living water) by day, out of which should rise a tall pillar, obelisk, or cluster of Gothic pinnacles, for light by night; the diffusion of light being the fit and intel-
ligible symbol for the invention of printing.” Although it might appear invidious in me to oppose any plan for the attainment of an object which I had advocated, I did not hesitate to sign my name to a letter, which I addressed to the Editor of the “
Times,” on the 7th of June, 1847, a few days before a public meeting was to be held for carrying out Mr. Milman’s plan. I contended that we required a monument for Caxton more definite than any “symbol,” however “fit and intelligible.” A fountain by day, a gas-light by night, were symbols of many other blessings that had been bestowed upon mankind, to refresh and illuminate, besides the art of printing. Such symbols might equally honour the memory of the pious and liberal Abbot who encouraged Caxton to set up his press in the “Chapel” at Westminster. They might equally honour any great writer whose “living waters” and whose “light” had been rendered universal through the press. No mixed motive of uniting a public work of utility with the memory of a great benefactor should interfere with the performance of the duty to which we had been invited, by the erection of such a monument as would at once tell its own story. We did not illustrate the memory of an orator by symbols of oratory, nor of a general by trophies of war. We wanted to show posterity what manner of man he was. The Germans had erected at Mayence a monument to Guttenberg. It was a bronze statue with bas-reliefs on the pedestal—not symbolical, but descriptive of his art.

On the 12th of June a large and most influential meeting was held in the great room of the Society of Arts, “To promote the erection of a monument to
commemorate the introduction of printing into England, and in honour of
William Caxton.” Lord Morpeth, Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Works, presided. The Dean of Westminster moved the first resolution, which Mr. John Murray seconded. Mr. Bancroft, the Resident Minister of the United States, proposed the second resolution, which was seconded by the Rev. H. H. Milman. A Committee was formed and subscriptions were entered into amounting to several hundred pounds. But the project fell to the ground. Would it have been otherwise if a statue had been proposed instead of a symbol?

The year in which the idea of a memorial to our first Printer received such marked discouragement, afforded an opportunity for judging whether England was alive to such manifestations of a healthy sentiment, or wholly indifferent to them in the belief that they would not pay. The house in which Shakspere is reputed to have been born was for sale. The old tenement at Stratford-upon-Avon, in which his father had lived, had been an object of curiosity and reverence during many years. Our countrymen went out of their way to look at it even in the days before railroads. Foreigners, and Americans especially, talked about it and wrote about it. The freehold property had descended to a branch of Shakspere’s family of the name of Hart. At the beginning of 1847 it was announced that it was to be sold to the highest bidder.

There was a Club, which I was instrumental in forming, called “The Museum.” It was originally contemplated to be a very cheap dining club, in the neighbourhood of the British Museum, for the accommodation of the numerous daily students in the Library of that Institution. The entrance and the
annual subscription were very low. Some men of eminence in Literature and Art became members, and younger men who had a reputation to make were welcomed. The house expenses were small; the furniture and table services were not costly. It was a true compliment to our Club when it got the name of “The Pewter Garrick.” Yet, though the arrangements were upon this humble scale, I believe there was as much enjoyment in “The Museum” as in “The Athenæum.” There was certainly more ease; and probably much more of the “full flow of London talk” about books and men than in the carpeted saloons of Pall Mall. At little social meetings I have heard as much wit in one evening as would furnish the stock in trade of a fashionable diner-out for a dozen exhibitions. But of this Club came the notion of setting on foot a subscription to buy the Shakspere House. It was determined to call a public meeting at the Thatched House Tavern. There were no titled names paraded to draw together a company; yet there was a full attendance. A Committee was nominated, chiefly of Men of Letters. One nobleman only,
Lord Morpeth, was included in this nomination. He was not a mere ornamental adjunct to a working Committee, but laboured as strenuously as any of us to accomplish the object for which we were associated. We raised a large subscription though it was somewhat short of the three thousand pounds for which we obtained the property. The deficiency was subsequently made up, in some measure, by a performance at Covent Garden Theatre, in which all the great actors and actresses of the time took scenes from various plays of Shakspere; and partly by the proceeds
of gratuitous Readings by
Mr. Macready, at the time when he was leaving the stage. The theatrical display of the 7th of December was exceedingly effective, with one exception. I had been requested by the Committee to write a Prologue, which was to be spoken by Mr. Phelps. He had not uttered three lines, when a row commenced in the back benches of the pit, which had been curtailed of its proper dimensions to form stalls. Three times the actor essayed to proceed, but the clamour of the struggling crowd grew louder and louder; till at length he rushed off the stage, and went to his own theatre of Sadler’s Wells, to find a more tranquil audience. I had the satisfaction of seeing my unhappy Prologue the next morning in “The Times.” Lest my readers should throw down my book, as Mr. Phelps threw up my poem, I will only inflict upon them sixteen lines:
“The Macedonian stands within the gates
Of the deyoted Thebes. Relentless hates
Ask to be loos’d in bloodshed and in fire:
Spare not—the conqueror cries:—yet stay! the lyre
Of glorious Pindarus in Thebes was strung—
Search for his House these fated piles among;
Perish the city, down with every tower,
But lift no spear against the Muses’ bower.
“The victor Time has stood on Avon’s side
To doom the fall of many a home of pride;
Rapine o’er Evesham’s gilded fane has strode,
And gorgeous Kenilworth has paved the road:
But Time has gently laid his withering hands
On one frail House—the House of Shakspere stands;
Centuries are gone—fallen ‘the cloud-capp’d tow’rs;’
But Shakspere’s home, his boyhood’s home, is ours.”

When the Shakspere House had been purchased by the London Committee, and when the adjoining
tenements had also been purchased by a separate subscription at Stratford, the necessity was apparent of having the house taken care of, and shown to visitors by some one, who, at the least, would not cast an air of ridicule over the whole thing, as was the case with the ignorant women who had made a property of it by the receipt of shillings and sixpences.
Mr. Charles Dickens organized a series of Amateur Performances “in aid of the Fund for the endowment of a Perpetual Curatorship of Shakspere’s House, to be always held by some one distinguished in Literature, and more especially in Dramatic Literature; the profits of which, it is the intention of the Shakspere House Committee to keep entirely separate from the fund now raising for the purchase of the House.” The announcement set forth that the Directors of General Arrangements would be Mr. John Payne Collier, Mr. Charles Knight, and Mr. Peter Cunningham,—the Stage-Manager, Mr. Charles Dickens. On the 15th of May, 1848, was to be presented at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, the Comedy of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and the Farce of “Animal Magnetism.” The cast of the Comedy may have, after the lapse of sixteen years, a far higher interest than that of a common amateur performance.

Sir John Falstaff   Mr. Mark Lemon.
Fenton   Mr. Charles Romer.
Shallow   Mr. Frederick Dickens.
Slender   Mr. John Leech.
Mr. Ford   Mr. John Forster.
Mr. Page   Mr. Frank Stone.
Sir Hugh Evans   Mr. G. H. Lewes.
Dr. Caius   Mr. Dudley Costello.
Host of the Garter Inn   Mr. Frederick Dickens.
Bardolph   Mr. Cole.
Pistol   Mr. George Cruikshank.
Nym   Mr. Augustus Dickens.
Robin   Miss Robins.
Simple   Mr. Augustus Egg.
Rugby   Mr. Eaton.
Mrs. Ford   Miss Fortescue.
Mrs. Page   Miss Kenworthy.
Mrs. Anne Page   Miss Anne Romer.
Mrs. Quickly   Mrs. Cowden Clarke.

In the July of this year the same performances, with a few variations of cast, were repeated at Edinburgh, and at Glasgow. Mr. Peter Cunningham and I accompanied the troop, something in the character of the Dutch Commissioners who went with Marlborough’s army, but not for the purpose of fighting, or rendering any effectual assistance to the fighters. But we did not, like those troublesome burghers in long cloaks, interfere in any degree with the regular course of our campaign. We were invited to go, and we went solely for our own gratification. It was, indeed, a joyous time, and I spent four or five days amidst excitements which were quite novel to me. The receipts of the London and Provincial Performances were considerable. There were many difficulties in the way of appointing a Curator of the Shakspere House. Lord Morpeth had pledged himself, in his official character, that if the house were vested in the Crown it should be preserved with religious care, as the property of the British people, and should be maintained as the honoured residence of some dramatic author, who should be salaried by the Government. This project, defeated by the retirement of Lord Morpeth from office, would have been in many respects desirable; for I may venture to inquire if there is any efficient Trust for this
property, and whether the Act of Mortmain does not interfere with any such Trust being created? It was conveyed in fee by the vendors in 1847 to two gentlemen. I have often asked in London and in Stratford who are the legal owners, and have never been able to obtain a satisfactory answer.
Mr. Dickens and his friends wisely determined, therefore, to do something efficient with the proceeds of their labours, and they bought an annuity for one of the most able of our dramatic authors, Mr. Sheridan Knowles.

After the theatrical trip to Scotland my intimacy with Mr. Dickens became of a closer character. Yet we rarely met in society. At the beginning of 1850 he wrote to me “I never see you, and begin to think we must have another Play, say in Cornwall, expressly to bring us together.” We were soon to be brought together in a manner that I shall always look back upon with no common pleasure. The “Household Words” was announced for publication on the 30th of March. Mr. Dickens, a week or two before the first number appeared, sent me a brief but most cordial invitation to become a contributor: “If you will write in my paper you will give me the utmost gratification, and be more welcome than the flowers in May.” I could command sufficient leisure from my business, which was then less engrossing than a few years before, willingly to lend my aid to a publication so full of promise—so sure to become a “Fountain,” of which all would rejoice to drink, whilst the “Sewer” would be avoided even by the most uninstructed. Such were the names by which, in my pamphlet on the Paper Duty, just then published, I had marked the distinction between a wholesome and a noxious cheap Weekly Sheet. I
occasionally contributed some articles to the two first volumes of this highly popular Miscellany.* In 1850 Mr. Dickens and I were much together, especially at Broadstairs. It was in that quiet little watering-place that he made me acquainted with the
Rev. James White. That acquaintance soon ripened into a warm friendship. Once established in confidential intercourse with this most amiable man, it was impossible for me not to love him. His heart was as warm as his intellect was clear. His conversational powers were of no common order, for to the richness of a cultivated mind he brought a natural vein of humour which in his talk, as occasionally in his writings, called forth that merriment which is most enjoyable because it is universal in its glancing satire. And yet his spirits, sometimes so buoyant, were occasionally overshadowed by a deep melancholy. Sorrow, of no common amount, in the loss of children, and in his fears for others of his family, had touched him nearly. He had a solace in the partner of his cares,—a blessing most needed by him under the depression which perhaps is the heaviest burden men of genius occasionally bear. Employment was his other great alleviator of trouble. He was the author of several well-known historical dramas; and in latter years he was a diligent writer of elementary historical works. “Landmarks of the History of England,” and “Landmarks of the History of Greece” have obtained a deserved reputation; their want of details is compensated by their breadth of view. The same power of generalization is displayed in his “Eighteen Christian Centuries” In

* Most of these are reprinted in my Volume, “Once upon a Time.”

his hospitable home at Bonchurch I always found a welcome when I was disposed for a few days’ relaxation. I enjoyed his friendship for twelve years—and then he, a comparatively young man, was called to his reward. His memory is held in reverence by all amongst whom he dwelt. He was surrounded by admiring friends, who felt that he was the great charm of their social circle. As President of the Ventnor Literary Institute he gave a stimulus, as only such a man can give, to the intellectual pursuits of a mixed population. His “Landmarks” of our own history were originally delivered as lectures to his neighbours. They are models of what such discourses ought to be—simple in their style; abounding in knowledge without pedantry; liberal and patriotic.

At the end of March, 1851, I received a note from Mr. Dickens which summoned me to a new vocation: “Jerrold tells me that you will do Hodge, the Country Servant, in Bulwer’s comedy.” This comedy, “Not so bad as we seem,” was to attain a wide notoriety in connexion with the performances of “The Amateur Company of the Guild of Literature and Art.” The notion of forming a Guild of this character had for its object “To encourage Life Assurance and other Provident habits among Authors and Artists; to render such assistance to both as shall never compromise their independence; and to found a new Institution where honourable rest from arduous labour shall still be associated with the discharge of congenial duties.” The plan was matured at Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton’s seat of Knebworth, in Hertfordshire, in November 1850, when there was an amateur performance of “Every Man in his Humour,” under the management of Mr. Dickens. I was favoured
with an invitation for one of three evenings. At the supper of the Amateurs after the last performance, it was announced that our host had signified his intention of presenting a piece of land, being a part of his estate, upon which might be erected commodious dwellings for the Members of the New Institution who should be elected to this “honourable rest from arduous labour.” Performances of a more public character than those of Knebworth were to be undertaken. Mr. Dickens, with his usual energy, set about their organization. The new comedy was written; the characters were cast. For myself, I should have been well contented with “Hodge, the Country Servant.” But my professional tastes, and consequent histrionic capacity for playing the part of a scheming publisher of the days of
Sir Robert Walpole, were considered; and I had to rehearse the part of “Mr. Jacob Tonson, a Bookseller.” “Left-legged Jacob,” I fear, had a halting representative.

The Amateur Company of the Guild, as originally constituted, was as follows;—taken in the order in which they appear in the announcements of the performances: Frank Stone; Dudley Costello; Charles Dickens; Douglas Jerrold; John Forster; Mark Lemon; F. W. Topham; Peter Cunningham; Westland Marston; R. H. Horne; Charles Knight; Wilkie Collins; John Tenniel; Robert Bell; Augustus Egg. The ladies were professional.

All the tedious process of rehearsals at Miss Kelly’s theatre were over. The dresses were made and fitted. A little moveable theatre was constructed—a perfect miniature stage, with every requisite of the property-man. The scenery was of no common character. Two Royal Academicians, Mr. Stanfield and Mr.
Roberts, had produced little marvels of scenic art. Mr. Grieve, and four others of the most eminent professors of this really high branch of pictorial effect, had painted interiors and street representations which were perfect illustrations of the story. Everything was ready for presenting “Not so bad as we seem” upon a site to which the car of Thespis had never before travelled. The Duke of Devonshire gave up his mansion in Piccadilly to our use. The moveable theatre was put up in the great drawing-room. We had his library for our green-room. The Duke took a warm interest in all our proceedings, and it is scarcely necessary to say that his hospitality was most liberal. A dress-rehearsal took place on the 6th of May, at which our families, and many literary men and artists were present, as well as immediate friends of our host. At the first performance at Devonshire House, on the 14th of May, the Queen was present. The actors and the audience were so close together that as Mr. Jacob Tonson sat in Wills’ Coffee-house he could have touched with his clouded cane the Duke of Wellington, who was of her Majesty’s suite.

The representations at Devonshire House were followed by others of a less courtly character at the Hanover Square Rooms. The town was excessively full, for it was the time of the Great Exhibition. We were getting rather weary of our monotonous duties on the hot nights of June and July, when they came to a close. The success of these performances was as much due to the remarkable powers of organization possessed by Mr. Dickens, as to the merits of the Comedy, and the desire of the actors to acquit themselves creditably in their several cha-
racters. Though it must be confessed the dialogue of the play was occasionally heavy, and the incidents not very striking, the applause of the audience was quite sufficient to have satisfied even the professional player. There was a wonderful farce, however, “
Mr. Nightingale’s Diary,” written by Mr. Dickens and Mr. Mark Lemon, in which Mr. Gabblewig (Dickens) personated five or six different characters, changing his dress, and altering his features, his voice, and his gait with an effect that was worthy of the elder or the younger Mathews. I have mentioned Mr. Dickens’s singular ability as a manager. It is perhaps not so remarkable a quality as the presence of mind, and power of will, which he displayed at one of the performances at Hanover Square. A part of the scenic drapery of the stage caught fire. The audience jumped up, and were rushing to the one door of egress, to encounter even a greater danger than that of a burning stage. Mr. Dickens, who was acting at the time, immediately rushed to the footlights, and his voice of command made itself heard through the whole building—“Sit still, every one of you!” The five hundred terrified spectators did sit still. The self-possessed actor went on with his part, as if nothing had happened, leaving to others to put out the blaze. It was quickly put out; and we all felt, when we looked upon the resumed tranquillity of those who might have been treading each other under foot, what an invaluable possession was decision of character.

The success in London of the Amateur Performances of the Guild led to the determination of the Company to venture upon some experiments with provincial audiences. Our theatre was so constructed
as to be packed and placed upon a railway-carriage. Our first excursion was to Bath and to Bristol, in November. The stage was put up in the Assembly-rooms at Bath. We were at our post, ready to dress, when our perruquier, with a look of horror, announced that the wigs had not arrived. The hairdressers’ shops were ransacked in vain; the time was long passed when Bath could produce a stock of perukes such as were the glory of the days of
Nash, much less of the first years of the Brunswick dynasty. It was a question whether our Duke of Middlesex, our Earl of Loftus, and our Lord Wilmot, could be content with the scratch-wigs of our own degenerate days, or appear in their gorgeous array of velvet and lace with their own cropped hair. We really dreaded for our poor perruquier some such catastrophe as happened to the cook of Louis the Fourteenth, when the fish came too late for dinner. But the fates were propitious. The wigs arrived at the last moment. The Bath audience, too genteel to manifest emotion, gave us very faint, if any, applause. We looked forward to the time when we should receive our deserts at the hands of the sturdier critics and the more youthful and sympathising fair of the North. We were compensated, however, by the audience in the Assembly-rooms at Clifton, where Bristol commerce and its suburban gentility vied with each other in making us welcome. In the February of the next year the Amateur Company had two performances at Manchester, and two at Liverpool. We felt it necessary on several occasions to decline the private and public hospitalities that were offered to us; but at Liverpool we considered ourselves bound to accept the invitation of the Mayor to dine at the Mansion-house. Mr.
Littledale, who was then Chief Magistrate, was an object of public admiration from the noble effort he had a little before made to save the crew of a sinking vessel. He was rewarded in being the instrument of preserving many lives as he was cruising in his yacht. On the occasion of our entertainment his brother members of the Yacht Club were also invited. I have not been much of a diner at the civic banquets of London; perhaps I may be somewhat fastidious, or speaking from imperfect knowledge, when I say that the hospitalities of the City appeared to me greatly inferior to the refinement of Liverpool, and the Mansion-house of London a tawdry affair compared with the elegant suite of rooms in which every stranger of note who comes to the great Port of the Mersey is sure to be welcomed at the weekly dinner, which is not chiefly confined to aldermen and common-councilmen.

We visited Shrewsbury and Birmingham in the summer of 1852, before setting out upon our principal circuit at the end of August and beginning of September. We first went to Nottingham, and then to Derby. At Newcastle, the room in which we performed was small and inconvenient, and the consequent crush somewhat alarming. But at Sunderland, where the Guild was to perform on the 28th of August, there was an alarm of a more serious character. We had arrived there from Newcastle in the middle of the day, and found that Dickens, who had started early to walk, was busied at the Musical Hall making the necessary arrangements. It had been recently erected; had never been used; and was in some parts not completely finished. Our manager was a long while absent, but at length he
came to the Inn, looking jaded and anxious, and, what was very unusual, depressed in spirits. He called me aside and told me that there was a notion amongst some people in the town that the place would fall down. The recollection of the catastrophe in the Brunswick Theatre was full upon his mind; but he had done all that man could do, short of stopping the performances. He had gone over the building with a surveyor, who had assured him that all was safe. Several of us went with him early to the Hall, examined under his advice all the modes of getting out connected with the stage, and at the same time were urged not to talk about our fears so that the ladies might be alarmed. The place was crowded. The performances went on. Our manager struggled with his nerves, and kept them under; but I saw upon him all the night the effect of the apprehension. There were at least a thousand people present, and when they huzzaed and stamped their feet till the roof shook again, we turned to each other, and heartily wished the night was over. Between the fear and the excitement of the popular demonstration, everybody had a racking headache.

From Sunderland we went to Sheffield. This was the last performance of “Not so bad as we seem.” At Manchester and Liverpool, where the Comedy had been acted in the early part of the year, other pieces were to be substituted. Writing home, I said, “On the 1st of September I made my last appearance on any stage. It is melancholy to think upon.” At Manchester a banquet was given in the Athenæum to the Members of the Guild. Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton was of the guests, as President of the Guild. Few men have greater power of treating common-
place topics with an effect which seems as original as it is graceful.
Mr. Dickens has acquired a reputation for after-dinner speeches, which renders his advocacy all-powerful for objects of public benevolence. Coming after these masters I was somewhat abashed at having to propose the Manchester Free Library. Two days after the banquet this Library was formally opened, and some of us had again to give utterance to our own sentiments, instead of repeating the words set down for us. But in connection with the higher interests of Literature and Art, for which the Guild was established, there could be no words more effective than those of the Comedy in which Lord Wilmot, the man of fashion, addresses David Fallen, the starving author, “Oh, trust me, the day shall come, when men will feel that it is not charity we owe to the Ennoblers of Life—it is Tribute! When their order shall rise with the civilisation it called into being; and, amidst an assembly of all that is lofty and fair in the chivalry of birth, it shall refer its claim to just rank among freemen, to some Queen whom even a Milton might have sung, and even a Hampden have died for!”

I have not forgotten that our business arrangements, and financial affairs, owed much of their regularity to the unceasing care of Mr. W. H. Wills. A large sum was collected, and invested. An Act of Parliament was obtained, for the constitution of the Guild in a corporate capacity, so as to hold property. From the wording of the Act, seven years had to elapse before any steps could be taken to carry out our plans. At the present time, three houses, commodious, well-finished, are being erected upon Sir E. Bulwer Lytton’s land, near Stevenage.