London: A Pilgrimage


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PREFACE

"How many?" the Brighton landlord asks, as the loaded carriages drive to the door.

The din of arrivals for Goodwood-of the opening of the Sussex fortnight-is all around me, while I prepare to give the patient reader some account of the original conception, and, I fear, the imperfect carrying out, of this Pilgrimage through the Great World of London. It was in the early morning-such a morning as broke upon Wordsworth, in September nearly seventy years ago, that it was first conceived. Also it was in the happier days of France, when war seemed nearly as far off from Paris as the New Zealander appears to be still from the ruins of London Bridge, that the plan of a Pilgrimage through the


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mighty city was discussed seriously. The idea grew upon the Pilgrims day by day. Notes accumulated upon notes. As we sailed, the sea seemed still to broaden. There would be no end to it. It would be the toil of a lifetime to gather in the myriad shapes of interminable London.

I proposed that we should open with a general description of the river-from Sheerness to Maidenhead; and we were to arrive by the London boat, from Boulogne. I insisted it was the only worthy way. As the English coast is made, a white fog is thrown about the ship, daintily as a bride is veiled. The tinkling of bells is heard around. We anchor. Our whistle answers the screams of other ships. We are of a fleet in a fog: undoubtedly near England. It is a welcome and an exquisite sight when the first faint beaming of the morning light smiles through imprisoning vapour. The lifting of the silver veil, as I have watched it, vanishing into the blue above, leaving the scene crystal clear-is a transformation that would give the Pilgrims, it seemed to me, the best first glimpse of Albion, and the broad mouth of the silent highway to London. The water alive with ships; the ancient ports nested in the chalk: the Reculvers brought to the edge of the rock: the flaunting braveries of Ramsgate and Margate, with the shiploads of holiday folks passing to and from the Pool: the lines of ocean ships and coasting vessels bearing, as far as the eye can reach, out from the immortal river, with the red Nore light at the mouth: the war monsters lying in the distance by Sheerness: the scores of open fishing boats working for Billingsgate Market-the confusion of flags and the astonishing varieties of build and rigging-are a surprise absolutely bewildering to all who have the faculty of observation, and pass to London, this way, for the first time. The


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entrance to the Thames, which calls to the mind of the lettered Englishman Spenser's "Bridal of Thames and Medway," is a glorious scene, with Sheerness fronted by guardships, for central point of interest. Between the Nore and Gravesend are places of interest, as the bygone fishing station, Leigh, that once rivalled Hamburg with the luscious sweetness of its grapes. Unlikelier spot to woo the sun to the vine was never seen. Then there is Cliffe, that was Bishop's Cliffe in the time of William the Conqueror. But the spots of antiquarian and of human interest come and go, to the pulses of the paddles, at every bend of the stream. Higham, the ancient corn station; Tilbury; the anchored merchant fleet off Gravesend; Gad's Hill, that lies away from the shore, full of pleasant and sad memories; Long Reach, where the united Cray and Darent fall into the Thames; Purfleet; Erith, gay with river yachts; Hornchurch, where are famous pasturages; Woolwich and Shooter's Hill, whither the Tudor princes went a-maying; Blackwall and Greenwich, redolent of whitebait!

A tempting way to travel, had we not been in haste to open upon the heart of London. But by Greenwich we have often lingered and lounged-over our work. We watched, one lazy day, the ebb and flow of London's commerce by water, from the windows of the "Ship." While the pencil worked-upon this figure of a traveller by Greenwich boat among others-we ran through vast series of subjects to be done.



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Before us the tugs went to and fro in quest of Indiamen, or towing clippers that were rich with gold from the Antipodes. The hay and straw barges went gently with the tide; and we talked of a sleep upon the hay, under the moon's light, along the silent highway. The barges of stone and grain went in the wake of the hay. The passenger steamboats cleverly rounded them, now and then with the help of a little bad language. The boatmen ashore, fumbling in their dog's-eared pockets, leaned over the railings of the embankment fronting the Hospital, and exchanged occasional gruff words. The Greenwich boys were busy in the mud below, learning to be vagabond men, by the help of the thoughtless diners flushed with wine, who were throwing pence to them. The "Dreadnought" was a splendid bulk of shade against the sky; and looked all the gloom which she folded in her brave wooden walls-big enough to accomplish the Christian boast upon her bulwarks-that her gangways were open to the sick seamen of all nations.

Greenwich without the pensioners-is like the Tower without the beef-eaters. The happy, peaceful old men who used to bask against the walls, upon the stone benches, realising Francis Crossley's derivation of the old place-the city of the sun-or Grian-wich; were pleasant fellows to chat with. And they were picturesque withal; and gave a meaning to the galleries under which they hobbled. The Invalides cleared of pensioners; Chelsea without a red coat; the National Gallery pictureless-these would be parallel places to the Hospital at Greenwich as it appeared tenantless. "It is the socket of an eye!" was once a companion's observation.

The Bellot Memorial fronting the Hospital I take to be the finest lesson that could be carved in stone, by the banks of the river along which


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the sailors of all nations are forever passing. It expresses the gratitude of a great maritime nation towards an intrepid foreign sailor, who put his life deliberately in peril, and who lost it, on a mission of help to an illustrious brother sailor. With the name of Franklin, that of Bellot will live. This simple obelisk was a suggestive and humanising fact to look upon, by Pilgrims of the two nations concerned in it. It was on out list: but we end our Pilgrimage without it after all. A happier or sunnier spot is not near London-and I cling to Crossley's definition-than the river front of Greenwich on an early summer evening; when the whitebait eaters are arriving: and the cooks are busy in the remote recesses of the "Ship" and the "Trafalgar." During our planning, I cited Isaac Disraeli on local descriptions: "The great art, perhaps, of local description, is rather a general than a particular view; the details must be left to the imagination; it is suggestive rather than descriptive." He gives us a good illustration of the writer who mistakes detail for pictorial force, Senderg, who in the "Alaric," gives five hundred verses to the description of a palace, "commencing at the facade, and at length finishing with the garden." If mere detail were descriptive power, an inventory would be a work of high art. The second illustration advanced by Mr. Disraeli is better than the first;-because it value has been tested; and by it the feebleness of mere details as agents for the production of a picture to the mind is demonstrated. Mr. Disraeli takes the "Laurentinum" of Pliny. "We cannot," he justly remarks, "read his letter to Gallus, which the English reader may, in Melmoth's elegant version, without somewhat participating in the delight of the writer in many of its details; but we cannot with the writer form the slightest conception of his villa, while he is leading us over from

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apartment to apartment, and pointing to us the opposite wing, with a `beyond this,' and a `not far from thence,' and `to this apartment another of the same sort,' &c." The details of a Roman villa appear to be laboriously complete: as complete as a valuer could make his statement of the spooks and forks and glasses of the "Trafalgar," the curtains of which are flapping lazily, making the setting sun wink upon our table, while we are talking about the province of the pen and that of the pencil.

Careful translators have bared all the mysteries and recesses of Pliny's meaning to architects; who, hereupon have aspired to raise a perfect Roman villa. "And," says Mr. Disraeli, "this extraordinary fact is the result-that not one of them but has given a representation different from the other!" "Montfaucon, a most faithful antiquary, in his close translation of the description of this villa, in comparing it with Felibien's plan of the villa itself, observes, `that the architect accommodated his edifice to his translation, but that their notions are not the same; unquestionably,' he adds, `if the skilful translators were to perform their task separately, there would not be one ho agreed with another.'"
Bibliography: -Isaac Disraeli. I remember an instance given me by a writer on London. He had commissioned a colleague to visit Covent Garden early in the morning; and write a faithful and comprehensive description of the scene. The whole produced was minute as the "Laurentinum": and for power to produce a vivid picture in the mind, as useless.

"I assure you," my friend said, "he dwelt in the veins in the cabbage-leaves!"

Lounging and chatting against the railings of the "Ship," with the after-dinner cigar, the artist catches the suggestion that will realise the scene. A striking pictorial fact is enough. Selection is the artistic faculty. Who that is river-wise does not remember this loaded barge,


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gliding upon the tide into the golden west-or under the beams of the lady moon, when the water was speckled with the lights of the boats

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and ships, and the larboard and starboard steamer lanterns gave such happy touches of colour in the grey blue of the cold scene!

We agreed that London had nothing more picturesque to show than the phases of her river, and her immense docks. And hereabouts we tarried week after week, never wearying of the rich variety of form and colour, and incident.

My note books were filled with the studies that were to be made, before we entered the streets of London. Smacks, barges, shrimp-boats; the entrance to the Pool; the Thames Police; the ship-building yards; sailors' homes and public houses; a marine store; groups of dock labourers; the Boulogne boat at St. Catherine's Wharf; the river-side porters; St. Paul's from the river-these are a few of our subjects-selected, and then rejected for others. The art of excision has been throughout a difficult one to practise. Our accumulated material might have filled half a dozen volumes: but herein is the cream-the essence of it.

It is impossible, indeed, to travel about London in search of the picturesque, and not accumulate a bulky store of matter after only a few mornings. The entrance to Doctors' Commons; Paternoster Row; the drinking fountain in the Minories surrounded with ragged urchins; the prodigious beadle at the Bank; the cows in the Mall, with the nurses and children round about; an election in the hall of the Reform Club; clerks at a grill in the City; the "Cheshire Cheese;" Poets' Corner; inside Lincoln's Inn Fields; the old houses in Wych Street; Barnard's Inn; a London cab stand; a pawnbroker's shop on Saturday; the turning out of the police at night; the hospital waiting room for out-patients: outside the casual ward; the stone yard in the morning; the pigeons among the


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lawyers in Guildhall Yard; a London funeral; frozen-out gardeners; a drawing-room; a levée; a sale at Christie's; a mock auction; the happy family; London from the summit of St. Paul's; the Blue-coat boys; Chelsea pensioners; Waterman's Hall, St. Mary-at-Hill, in Lower Thames Street; the costermongers; the newsboys-these are only a few of the subjects set down. We repeat, we have taken the cream of them.

London an ugly place, indeed! We soon discovered that it abounded in delightful nooks and corners: in picturesque scenes and groups; in light and shade of the most attractive character. The work-a-day life of the metropolis, that to the careless or inartistic eye is hard, angular, and ugly in its exterior aspects; offered us pictures at every street corner

I planned several chapters on work-a-day London, of which the workman's train and the crowds pressing over London Bridge were to be the key-notes. We were to analyse the crowds of toilers, and present to the reader galleries of types: as-the banker, the stockbroker, the clerk, the shop-boy. Instead of a gallery of types, we have given comprehensive pictures.

A day's business in the City, was another subject; and we were to lunch at Lloyd's, go on `Change, see the Bank cellars, attend the Lord Mayor's Court, note the skippers in Jerusalem Coffee House, describe St. Martin's-le-Grand at the closing of the boxes; and then to see the weary host retire home by every City artery, to the suburbs. Presently we were to study the departments of the State, with the statesmen, judges, peers and commoners in the neighbourhood of Westminster Hall. Sunday in London was a tempting subject on my list. The excursion train; the Crystal Palace on an Odd Fellows' day, and on a fashionable Saturday; a


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trial at the Old Bailey; a Cow Cross audience; an Irish funeral; a green-grocer's shop, and other picturesque shops; the London butcher and his boy; a dust cart and dustmen; street musicians; the boys of London contrasted with the "gamins de Paris!" There are abundant studies of the picturesque in Paris-in the Marais, at Montmartre, and in the neighbourhood of the Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève; but I am not sure that there is so much more to tempt the artist's pencil and the writer's pen by the banks of the Seine, than we have found lying thick upon our way in our Pilgrimage through the Land of Cockayne.

In the narrow streets


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and lanes of the City, for instance, we found tumultuous episodes of energetic, money-making life, in the most delightful framework. Such places as Carter Lane, spanned by bridges from warehouse to warehouse, and pierced with cavernous mouths that are helped to bales of food by noisy cranes; lie in a hundred directions amid the hurly-burly of the City. There is a passage leading from Paternoster Row to St. Paul's Churchyard. It is a slit, through which the Cathedral is seen more grandly than from any other point I can call to mind. It would make a fine, dreamy picture, as we saw it one moonlight night, with some belated creatures resting against the walls in the foreground-mere spots set against the base of Wren's mighty work, that, through the narrow opening, seemed to have its cross set against the sky.

But, we had no room for it. It is impossible to put a world in a nutshell. To the best of our judgment we have selected the most striking types, the most completely representative scenes, and the most picturesque features of the greatest city on the face of the globe-given to us to be reduced within the limits of a volume. We have touched the extremes of London life. The valiant work, the glittering wealth, the misery and the charity which assuages it; the amusements and sports of the people; and the diversions of the great and rich-are gathered together between these covers-interpreted by one whose imagination and fancy have thrown new lights upon the pages of Milton, of Cervantes, of Dante, of Hood, of Tennyson; in the companionship of an old friend whose lot has been cast along the highways and by-ways of the two greatest cities of the earth, for many years.



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The two Pilgrims (whose earliest travel in company was to see the Queen of England land at Boulogne in 1855), have belted London with their foot-prints, and have tarried in many strange places-unfamiliar to thousands who have been life-long dwellers within the sound of Bow Bells. Wherever human creatures congregate there is interest, in the eye of the artist and the literary observer; and the greatest study of mankind may be profitably pursued on any rung of the social ladder-at the workhouse threshold, or by the gates of a palace.



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