London: A Pilgrimage


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INTRODUCTION

We are Pilgrims, wanderers, gipsy-loiterers in the great world of London-not historians of the ancient port and capital to which Dinanters, of Dinant on the Meuse, carried their renowned brass vessels six hundred years ago. Upon the bosom of old Thames, now churned with paddle and screw, cargoes were borne to the ancestors of Chancer. It is indeed an ancient tide of business and pleasure: ancient in the fabled days of the boy Whittington, listening to the bells at Highgate. We are true to remote amicable relations between the two foremost nations of the earth; we, French artist and English author, when we resolve to study some of the salient features of the greatest city of the world, together. Under the magic influence of its vastness;


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its prodigious unwieldy life, and its extraordinary varieties of manners, character, and external picturesqueness; a few pleasant days' wanderings through the light and shade of London, became the habit of two or three seasons. Our excursions in quest of the picturesque and the typical, at last embraced the mighty city, from the Pool to the slopes of Richmond.

We are wanderers; not, I repeat, historians.

And we approach London by the main artery that feeds its unflinching vigour. We have seen the Titan awake and asleep-at work and at play. We have paid our court to him in his brightest and his happiest guises: when his steadfastness to the Old is illustrated by the dress of the Yeoman of the Guard, or his passion for the New is shown in the hundred changes of every passing hour. Hawthorne has observed that "human destinies look ominous without some perceptible intermixture of the sable or the grey." We have looked upon the Titan sick and hungering, and in his evil-doing; as well as in his pomp and splendour in the West, and in the exercise of his noble charities and sacrifices. We have endeavored to seize representative bits of each of the parts of the whole.

Our way has lain in the wake of Leigh Hunt and Charles Lamb, rather than in that of Cunningham or Timbs. In his pleasant recollections connected with the Metropolis, Hunt observes in his usual light and happy manner:-"One of the best secrets of enjoyment is the art of cultivating pleasant associations. It is an art that of necessity increases with the stock of our knowledge; and though in acquiring our knowledge we must encounter disagreeable associations also, yet, if we


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secure a reasonable quantity of health by the way, these will be far less in number than the agreeable ones: for, unless the circumstances which gave rise to the associations press upon us, it is only from want of health that the power of throwing off their burdensome images becomes suspended." This is Hunt's cheery, speculative custom. He is, hereupon, off into the quarters that in his day were, to the ordinary man, the dreariest and most repulsive in London. But Leigh Hunt bore his own sunshine with him. The fog was powerless upon him. In vain the rain pattered upon his pleasant, handsome face. I think it is R.H. Horne who write "`Tis always sunrise somewhere in the world." In the heart of Hunt, Orion was for ever purpling the sky. He is in St. Giles's-as St. Giles's was in his time:-"We can never go through St. Giles's, but the sense of the extravagant inequalities in human condition presses more forcibly upon us; but some pleasant images are at hand even there to refresh it. They do not displace the others, so as to injure the sense of public duty which they excited; they only serve to keep our spirits fresh for their task, and hinder them from running into desperation or hopelessness. In St. Giles's Church lie Chapman, the earliest and best translator of Homer; and Andrew Marvell, the wit and patriot, whose poverty Charles II. could not bribe. We are as sure to think of these two men, and of all the good and pleasure they have done to the world, as of the less happy objects about us. The steeple of the church itself, too, is a handsome one; and there is a flock of pigeons in that neighbourhood, which we have stood with great pleasure to see careering about it of a fine afternoon, when a western wind had swept back the smoke towards the city, and showed the white of the stone steeple piercing

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up into a blue sky. So much for St Giles's, whose very name is a nuisance with some." And so the happy spirit trudges through the shadiest places; or will linger to gossip by London Stone of the mighty tides of life that have passed by it. Fletcher and Massinger lying in one grave at St. Saviour's in the Borough; Gower, Chaucer's contemporary hard by-these give sunshine (with memories folded about the Tabard) to Southwark. Spenser was born in Smithfield. It is a hard spot-but the poet, pacing Lombard Street, remembers that it is the birth-place of Pope, that Gray first saw the light in Cornhill, and that Milton was born in Bread Street, Cheapside. Fleet Street holds a crowd of delightful associations. It is not the Queen's Highway, it is that of Johnson and Goldsmith, and all their goodly fellowship. The genius of Lord Bacon haunts Gray's Inn, that if Selden the Inner Temple: Voltaire appears in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, Congreve in Surrey Street, Strand: John of Gaunt in Hattan Garden: and all the wits of Queen Anne's time in Russell Street by Drury Lane. As Hunt observes (he never went into a market, as he affectedly remarked, except to buy an apple or a flower), "the whole of Covent Garden is classic ground from its association with the dramatic and other wits of the times of Dryden and Pope. Butler lived, perhaps died, in Rose Street, and was buried in Covent Garden Churchyard; where Peter Pindar the other day followed him."

This amiable, scholarly out-look upon London, is, as Hunt insists at the opening of his essay, a healthy habit of association. "It will


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relieve us, even when a painful sympathy with the distresses of others becomes a part of the very health of our minds." We have taken care that the happy images of the past which people the dreariest corners of London "never displaced the others, so as to injure the sense of public duty which they excite:" but we have leant to the picturesque-the imaginative-side of the great city's life and movement. I apprehend that the lesson which Doré's pictorial renderings of our mercantile centre will teach, or discover, is that London, artistically regarded, is not, as the shallow have said so often, an ugly place, given up body and soul to money-grubbing. London, as compared with Paris, has a business air which tires the pleasure seeker, and revolts many sentimental observers who will not be at the pains of probing our life. All classes and ranks of Englishmen in London have the air of men seriously engaged in the sordid cares of commercial life. Selden's remark that "there is no Prince in Christendom but is directly a Tradesman" "There is not Prince in Christendom but is directly a Tradesman, though in another way than an ordinary Tradesman. For the purpose, I have a man; I bid him lay out twenty shillings in such commodities; but I tell him for every shilling he lays out I will have a penny. I trade as well as he. This every Prince does in his Customs." is that of a purely English mind. We are not prone to the picturesque side of anything. We seldom pause to contemplate the proportions of St. Paul's, the grandeur of the Abbey, the beauty of the new Bridge at Westminster. How may have paused to watch one of these familiar hay or straw boats floating to London in the moonlight? How few turn out of Fleet Street (it is but a child's stone's-throw) to mark the quiet, neglected corner in the Temple where the mortal part of Oliver Goldsmith is laid! The

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mind of Hunt, in its exquisite sensibility and kindly vivacity, was Italian. He saw in our dismal alleys the cradle of the poet, the grand death-bed of the historian, the final agony of the forlorn boy who had nothing but a slate between his head and the thunder cloud.

One Sunday night (we had been talking over a morning we had spent in Newgate, and of our hazardous journeys through the Dens and Kitchens of Whitechapel and Limehouse ) Doré suddenly suggested a tramp to London Bridge. He had been deeply impressed with the groups of poor women and children we had seen upon the stone seats of the bridge one bright morning on our way to Shadwell. By night, it appeared to his imagination, the scene would have a mournful grandeur. We went. The wayfarers grouped and massed under the moon's light, with the ebon midnight stillness, there was a most impressive solemnity upon the whole, which penetrated the nature of the artist. "And they say London is an ugly place!" was the exclamation.

"We shall see," I answered.



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