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Title: Thackeray's London - a description of his haunts and the scenes of his novels
Author: Rideing, William H. (William Henry)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1885 Cupples, Upham and Co. edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]

                     [Picture: Portrait of Thackeray]



                           THACKERAY’S LONDON.


                    _A DESCRIPTION OF HIS HAUNTS AND_
                       _THE SCENES OF HIS NOVELS_.

                                    BY
                           WILLIAM H. RIDEING.

                                * * * * *

                                 _LONDON_
                           J. W. JARVIS & SON,
                  28, KING WILLIAM STREET, STRAND, W.C.

                                * * * * *

                               BOSTON, U.S.
                          CUPPLES, UPHAM AND CO.

                                  1885.

                _Copyright_, 1885.  _Washington_, _D. C._

                        BY WILLIAM HENRY RIDEING.

                                * * * * *

                                 LONDON:

     S. AND J. BRAWN, PRINTERS, 13, GATE STREET, LINCOLN’S INN FIELDS

The portrait is engraved from the large etching by G. B. SMITH in
“ENGLISH ETCHINGS,” by kind permission of the proprietor.

                                * * * * *

We also have to acknowledge, with thanks, permission from MESSRS. SMITH,
ELDER & CO., to introduce the various excerpts from Thackeray’s Works
found in the following pages.

                                                         _THE PUBLISHERS_.



I.


Thackeray does not give the same opportunities for the identification of
his scenes as Dickens.  The elaboration with which the latter localizes
his characters, and the descriptive minutiæ with which he makes their
haunts no less memorable than themselves, are not to be found in the
works of the author of _Vanity Fair_.  No faculty was stronger in
Dickens, or of more service to him, than his power of word-painting.  He
reproduces the objects by which the persons he describes are surrounded
with a fidelity which would be tedious, if it were not relieved by the
humor which humanizes bricks, and imparts a grotesque sort of sensibility
to articles of furniture; and it is not easy to think of any of his
leading characters without being reminded of the neighborhoods in which
they played their parts.

Thackeray, on the contrary, is not topographical.  The briefest mention
of a street suffices with him, and it is the character, not the locality,
which has permanence in the reader’s mind.  Every feature of Becky Sharp
is remembered with a vividness which disassociates her with fiction; but
the situation of the little house in which the unfortunate Rawdon finally
discovers her duplicity, in the famous scene with the Marquis of Steyne,
escapes the memory.  When the book is no longer fresh to him, the reader
may recollect that after her marriage she went to live in Mayfair, and
may picture to himself a small, fashionable dwelling in that aristocratic
neighbourhood; but he cannot remember that the author places it in Curzon
street, nor that the Sedleys lived in Russell Square, Philip in Old Parr
street, and Colonel Newcome in Fitzroy Square.

We have one example in Thackeray of the grotesquely humorous descriptive
power of which Dickens was a master.  It hits at the absurd nomenclature
of modern London suburbs, where every box of a house has some
high-sounding name of the sort which ornaments the fiction of the
“Chambermaid’s Companion,” and it describes the neighbourhood into which
the Sedleys moved after their failure—“St. Adelaide Villa, Anna Maria
Road, West, where the houses look like baby houses; where the people
looking out of the first floor windows must infallibly, as you think, sit
with their feet in the parlors below; where the shrubs in the little
gardens in front bloom with a perennial display of little children’s
pinafores, little red socks, caps, etc. (_polyandria polygenia_); whence
you hear the sound of jingling spinets and women singing; and whither, of
an evening, you see city clerks plodding wearily.”

The fanciful supposition that persons in the upper stories must have
their legs on the lower floor is richly characteristic of the manner in
which Dickens would have indicated the smallness of the houses.  It is a
touch of that kind of humour which distinguishes all the work of that
author, and which was one of his most serviceable resources; it gives
facial expression to inanimate objects, and, as we have said, it
individualizes the haunts of his characters no less than the characters
themselves.  But it is so rare in Thackeray that the exhibition of it in
this fragment strikes us, as the lurid style of the earlier writings of
Lord Lytton would do if we were to find a passage from them interpolated
among the confiding garrulities of _Vanity Fair_.

It was not that Thackeray lacked the power of observation in the
direction of externals,—though he certainly did not possess it in the
same degree as Dickens—nor that his characters were airy visions to him,
requiring no other habitation than the chambers of his brain; they were
indeed flesh and blood to him, and Miss Thackeray has told a friend of
the writer’s, {5} how, in her walks with her father, he would point out
the very houses in which they lived.  The difference was principally one
of method.  Thackeray’s was the classic stage—a dais with a drapery of
green baize, before the time of scenery.  Dickens’s was the modern stage,
with lime-lights, trap-doors, and elaborate “sets.”



II.


Though his other scenes are misty, no reader of Thackeray who engages in
a search for the places which he describes is likely, however, to
overlook the Charterhouse, the ancient foundation to which he refers
again and again, dwelling on it with many fond reminiscences.  It is the
school in which he himself was educated, and he has associated three
generations of his characters with it.  Thomas Newcome received
instruction here, also his son Clive, with Pendennis, Osborne, and Philip
of the second generation, after whom came Rawdon Crawley’s little son and
young George Osborne; and, finally, the dear old Colonel, when broken
down and weary, joined the poor brethren who are pensioners of the
institution, and within its monastic walls cried _Adsum_ as he heard a
voice summoning him to the everlasting peace.  Occasionally it is called
Slaughter-house, once or twice “Smiffle” (after the boys’ way of
pronouncing Smithfield, where it is situated); but in Thackeray’s later
works he generally speaks of it as Grayfriars or Whitefriars.

“It had been,” he says in _Vanity Fair_, “a Cistercian convent in old
days when the Smith field, which is contiguous to it, was a tournament
ground.  Obstinate heretics used to be brought thither, convenient for
burning hard by.  Henry the Eighth seized upon the monastery and its
possessions, and hanged and tortured some of the monks who would not
accommodate themselves to the pace of his reform.  Finally, a great
merchant bought the house and land adjoining, in which, with the help of
other wealthy endowments of land and money, he established a famous
foundation hospital for old men and children.  An extra school grew round
the old, almost monastic foundation, which subsists still with its
middle-age costume and usages; and all Christians pray that it may
flourish.

“Of this famous house some of the greatest noblemen, prelates and
dignitaries in England, are governors; and as the boys are very
comfortably lodged, fed and educated, and subsequently inducted to good
scholarships at the University, and livings in the Church, many little
gentlemen are devoted to the ecclesiastical profession from their
tenderest years, and there is considerable emulation to procure
nominations for the foundation.  It was originally intended for the sons
of poor and deserving clerics and laics; but many of the noble governors
of the institution, with an enlarged and rather capricious benevolence,
selected all sorts of objects for their bounty.  To get an education for
nothing, and a livelihood and profession assured, was so excellent a
scheme, that some of the richest people did not disdain it; and not only
the great men’s relations, but great men themselves, sent their sons to
profit by the chance.  Right reverend prelates sent their own kinsmen as
the sons of their clergy, while on the other hand some great noblemen did
not disdain to patronize the children of their confidential servants, so
that a lad entering this establishment had every variety of youthful
society wherewith to mingle.”

As a rule, however, the boys, belong to the upper classes, and an
education obtained at Charterhouse is scarcely less of a social
distinction than the much coveted and costly preparation of Eton, Harrow,
or Winchester.  The history of the school is full of brilliant names, and
among its scholars have been Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Isaac
Barrow, General Havelock, Sir William Blackstone, Lord Chief Justice
Ellenborough, Lord Liverpool, John Wesley and George Grote.

It is possible that one may know London intimately, and yet be ignorant
of the situation of the Charterhouse.  Smithfield is out of the way of
the main lines of traffic: it is a squalid neighbourhood, north of
Ludgate Hill, and it retains its ancient characteristics more than almost
all other parts of the great city,—which has been so modernized that
Cheapside looks like a slice of Broadway, and once shabby Fleet Street is
showing all sorts of ornamental fronts.  It has in it many solemn brick
houses of a blackish purple, with glowing roofs of red tiles; smaller
buildings of an earlier period, with high peaked gables and overlapping
second stories; sequestred alleys, and courts bearing queer names, and
many curious little shops.

One of the most direct approaches to it is through the Old Bailey from
Ludgate Hill.  On this route we pass the austere granite of Newgate
Prison and also Pye Corner, where as the sign-board of a public house
tells us, the great fire of 1666 ended, after burning from the 2nd to the
10th of September; we also pass Cock Lane, famous for its ghost, and the
quaintest of old London churches, St. Bartholomew the Great, which is
hemmed in and partly extinguished by the surrounding houses, that hide
all but its smoked and patched tower, and a few square feet of grass,
which is justifiably discouraged in its want of sunshine and space;
thence our path is by the extensive buildings of St. Bartholomew’s
Hospital, about which there is a morbid activity in the flow of officials
and visitors, most of the latter being slatternly and anxious-looking
women, with babies and baskets on their arms, and from the Hospital we
cross the street, and so through the new cattle market, which fills the
space once occupied by the pens, and covers the spot whence the souls of
many martyrs have passed in flame from the stake to heaven.



III.


The buildings form an irregular cluster spread over a prodigal area, and
isolated by a wall of brick and stone which many London fogs and long
days of yellow weather have reduced to the dismalest of colors.  None of
them are lofty; some of them are of granite, and others of brick, upon
which age has cast a smoky mantle.  They are separated by wide courts and
winding passages; and when I was there in the Easter vacation these open
spaces were vacant, and the brisk twittering of the sparrows was the only
sound that came from them.  The quiet seemed all the greater, inasmuch as
all around the walls is a busy neighbourhood, full of traffic and voices.
The courts are for the most part paved with small cobblestones, and are
cleanly swept; but some of them are grassy—grassy in the dingy and feeble
way of London vegetation.  These buildings look as sad as they are old;
to the juvenile imagination the high walls and the severe architecture
must be sharply distressing, and many a boy has felt his heart sink with
misgiving as, for the first time, he has been driven through the old
gate-way, to be placed as a scholar on Thomas Sutton’s {15} famous
foundation.

At this old gate-way, one day, I saw a very feeble old gentleman,
strangely dressed in a scarlet waistcoat and bright blue trowsers, a
brass-buttoned coat, and a high silk hat.  He was very small and very
weak, moving slowly with the help of a stick, and coughing painfully
behind his pocket handkerchief.  To my question as to the admission of
strangers, he said, quaveringly: “If you are a patron, you may see the
buildings, but you had better ask the janitor; there he is.  I,” he
added, with some hesitation, “I am one of the poor brethren.”

The old head bowed down with years and sorrow, the white hair, the
troublesome cough, the courteous amiability of manner, reminded me of
Colonel Newcome—Codd Newcome, as the boys began to call him; and, indeed,
this old gentleman had been a captain in the Queen’s service, as the
janitor afterward told us, though he was not as stately nor as handsome
as the dear old Colonel was.  None of the celebrities of Charterhouse
possesses the same vivid interest, the same hold upon our sympathies, the
same command of the affections, as the brave, high-minded, large-hearted
old soldier, who sacrificed all he had in the world to keep his honour
spotless, and to shield others from misery.

As the janitor took us from hall to hall in the dark, monastic buildings,
Colonel Newcome was constantly before us, and his figure, even more than
that of Thackeray himself, filled our minds, and made us feel kindly to
the old pensioners who were sunning themselves at the doors of their
rooms, or were gathered in a quiet corner of one of the courts, chatting
or reading.

The pensioners, of whom there are eighty, remain in the old buildings, in
which each of them has a sitting-room and a bed-room, with a servant to
wait upon him.  Their table is a common one, in a grand old dining-hall,
and twice a day they don their gowns to go to service in the little
chapel, to thank God for his manifold blessings and mercies.  But the
boys have been removed since 1870 to a magnificent new-school at
Godalming, Surrey, thirty-four miles away from London fogs and the crowds
of Smithfield, and they have taken nearly all the relics of Thackeray
with them, including the little bed in which he slept while a scholar.
Their part of the buildings is now occupied by the Merchant Taylors’
School, which has added a large new schoolroom to the square.  The ground
is immensely valuable, and from an economic point of view it seems a
waste to devote it to the obsolete buildings which fill the greater part
of it.  Soon, no doubt, another home will be found for the poor brethren,
and when commerce takes possession of Charterhouse Square, one of the
most interesting piles in London town will disappear. {19}

The cleanliness and orderliness which leave no scrap of waste or wisp of
straw or ridge of dust visible in the approach have also swept up every
part of the interior; and though the smoke and dust have taken a
tenacious hold, the charwoman’s besom and scrubbing-brush have been
vigorously applied.  The buildings look quite as old as they are.  The
oaken wainscoting is the deepest brown; the balusters and groining are
massive and carved; the tapestries are indistinct and phantasmal, like
faded pictures, and the walls are like those of a fortress.  It is easy
in these surroundings to conjure up visions of the middle ages.

The site of the dormitories of the Charterhouse boys is now occupied by
the new school-room of the Merchant Taylors; but looking upon it is a
dusky cloister, once given to the prayerful meditations of the friars,
which in Thackeray’s time and later was used for games of ball; the gloom
is everywhere.  The ghosts of the silent brothers seem fitter tenants
than the boys with shining faces and ringing voices.  There are narrow,
suspicious-looking passages, and heavily-barred, irresistible oaken
doors.  But these corridors and barriers against the unwelcome lead into
several apartments of truly magnificent size and faded splendour.  The
dining-hall of the poor brethren has wainscoting from twelve to twenty
feet high, a massively groined roof, a musicians’ gallery with a carved
balustrade, and a large fire-place framed in ornamental oak, over which
the Sutton arms are emblazoned; while at the end of the room is a
portrait of the founder, dressed in a flowing gown and the suffocatingly
frilled collar of his time.  Parallel to this, and accessible by a low
door, is the dining-hall of the gown boys, a long, narrow room, with a
very low ceiling, high wainscoting, a knotty floor, insufficient windows,
and another large fire-place inclosed by an elaborate mantel-piece of
oak.  Here almost side by side, these boys with life untried before them
and the old men well-nigh at their journey’s end, ate the bread provided
for them by their common benefactor, and joined voices in thanksgiving;
here still the old pensioners assemble, and in trembling voices murmur
grace over the provision made for them.  Upstairs there is a
banqueting-hall, which is not inferior in sombre grandeur to that of the
poor brothers, and was once honoured by the presence of Queen Elizabeth.
It also is wainscoted and groined, and hung with tapestries, out of which
the pictures have nearly vanished.  The fire-place is the finest of all,
and above it some hazy paintings are lost in the shadow.

Thackeray was one of the foundation scholars, and lived in the school,
and wore a gown.  He was, from all accounts, an average boy,
undistinguished by industry or precocious ability.  He was very much like
many of Dr. Birch’s little friends: a simple honest, and sometimes
mischievous lad.  Though he was never elected orator or poet, he wrote
parodies, and was clever with a pencil, which he used with no little
fancy and humour.  The margins of books and scraps of paper of all kinds
were covered with sketches, most of them caricatures; and it is said to
have been a familiar thing to see the artist surrounded by an admiring
crowd of his school-fellows, while he developed, with grotesque
extravagance and never-failing effect, the outlines of some juvenile hero
or some notability of history.  The head master of the school was severe,
and as Thackeray was very sensitive, it is supposed that his school days
were not of the happiest.  But he bore the old foundation no ill-will;
who, indeed, shall ever do it more honor than he has done?

Only a few weeks before his death, Thackeray was present on Founder’s
Day.  He sat in his usual back seat in the old chapel.  He went thence to
hear the oration in the governor’s room, and, as he walked up to the
orator with his contribution, was received with hearty applause.  At the
banquet afterward, he sat at the side of his old friend and school-mate
John Leech; and Thackeray it was who, on that occasion proposed the toast
of “The Charterhouse.”

Taking us through the grounds by the way of Wash-house Court, a
quadrangle of very old and smoky buildings, which were attached to the
original monastery, the janitor conducted us into the cool and quiet
cloister which leads into the chapel.  Here is the handsome memorial of
the Carthusians slain in the wars, and on the walls is a commemorative
tablet to Thackeray.  Next to Thackeray’s is a similar tablet to the
memory of Leech.

The little chapel is much as it was in their time and long before.  The
founders’ tomb, with its grotesque carvings, monsters, heraldries, still
darkles and shines with the most wonderful shadows and lights, as
Thackeray described it.  There, in marble effigy, lies Fundator Noster in
his ruff and gown, awaiting the great examination day.  Just in front of
this elaborate monument, Thackeray himself used to sit when a boy.  The
children are present no more; but yonder, twice a day, sit the pensioners
of the hospital, listening to the prayers and the psalms,—four-score of
the old reverend black gowns.  The custom of the school was that, on the
twelfth of December, the head gown boy should recite a Latin oration;
and, though the scholars are removed to Godalming, the ceremony is
perpetuated.  Many old Carthusians attend this oration; after which they
go to chapel and hear a sermon, which is followed by a dinner, at which
old condisciples meet, old toasts are given, and speeches are made.  The
reader has surely not forgotten how Pendennis, himself a Grayfriars boy,
came to the festival one day quite unaware of his friend’s presence.

“The pensioners were in their benches, the boys in their places, with
young fresh faces and shining white collars.  We oldsters, be we ever so
old,” Pendennis has written, “become boys again as we look at that old
familiar tomb, and think how the seats are altered since we were here,
and how our doctor—not the present doctor, the doctor of _our_ time—used
to sit yonder, and his awful eye used to frighten us shuddering boys on
whom it lighted; and how the boy next us _would_ kick our shins during
service time, and how the monitor would cane us afterwards, because our
shins were kicked.  Yonder sit forty cherry-cheeked boys, thinking about
home and holidays to-morrow.  Yonder sit the pensioners coughing feebly
in the twilight.  Is Codd Ajax alive you wonder?—the Cistercian lads
called these old gentlemen Codds, I know not wherefore—but is old Codd
Ajax alive I wonder? or Codd soldier? or kind old Codd gentleman? or has
the grave closed over them?

“A plenty of candles light up this chapel, and this scene of age and
youth, and early memories, and pompous death.  How solemn the
well-remembered prayers are, here uttered again in the place where in
childhood we used to listen to them.  How beautiful and decorous the
rite, how noble the ancient words of the supplications which the priest
utters, and to which generations of fresh children, and troops of by-gone
seniors have cried Amen! under those arches!  The service for Founder’s
Day is a special one; one of the Psalms selected being the
thirty-seventh, and we hear:—23. ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by
the LORD; and He delighteth in His way.  24. Though he fall, he shall not
be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.  25. I
have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous
forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.’  As we came to this verse, I
chanced to look up from my book toward the swarm of black-coated
pensioners, and amongst them—amongst them—sat Thomas Newcome.”  The noble
old man had come to end his days here, and we know of no chapter in
English literature more affecting than that in which his light is put
out, and he softly murmurs _Adsum_.

Tears often refuse to flow when manhood has blunted the sympathies, and
we are unmoved when we read again the books which summoned copious floods
in youth, but the pathos of Colonel Newcome’s death, never loses its
effect; it is so deep and genuine, that the description starts our grief
anew whenever we read it, and it leaves us with an acute sense of
profound bereavement.  We feel a tender interest in the poor brothers,
and a high respect for them, because the Colonel was one of them, and
because Thackeray, in his imperishable prose, has made them
representative of honorable but unfortunate old age. {29}

Charterhouse is the centre of a neighbourhood which Dickens chose for
many of his scenes, as the reader of this knows.  “Only a wall,” says
Thackeray, in _Mr. and Mrs. Frank Berry_, “separates the playground, or
‘green,’ as it was called in his time, from Wilderness Row and Goswell
street.  Many a time have I seen Mr. Pickwick look out of his window in
that street, though we did not know him then.”  Not only of Mr. Pickwick,
but of many other characters, do we find reminiscences in Smithfield.
The Sarah Son’s Head, as John Browdy called it, Snow Hill, Saffron Hill,
Fleet Lane, and Kingsgate street are not far away.  The buildings with
the ancient fronts, the idlers at the corners, and the confusing little
alleys, which lead where no one would expect them to lead, all belong to
Dickens’s London.  The miserable associations of his early life, his
interest in the poor, and his relish for the grotesque, drew him into the
shady and disreputable quarters of the city; and the student of his works
can track him with greater ease and ampler results in neighbourhoods like
Smithfield than in the West End.  With Thackeray, the reverse is the
case; and, excepting Charter-house, the reader who desires to identify
his localities finds little to reward him in a search east of Pall Mall,
or south of Oxford street.



IV.


On the site of the Imperial Club in Cursitor street, Chancery Lane, stood
a notorious “sponging house,” to which Rawdon Crawley was taken when
arrested for debt, immediately after leaving the brilliant entertainment
given by the Marquis of Steyne, and from which he wrote an ill-spelled
letter to his wife (who had appeared triumphantly in some charades at
that entertainment), begging her to send some money for his release.  The
reader remembers how the faithless little woman answered,—assuring him of
her grief and anxiety, and telling him that she had not the money, but
would get it; though, as poor, blundering, soft-hearted Rawdon discovered
afterward, she had a very large sum at the moment she wrote to him, and
did not send him any of it because she wished to keep him in jail that
she might intrigue with the licentious old marquis; and the reader will
remember that Rawdon was released at the instance of his cousin’s wife,
and went to the little house in Curzon street, where he surprised his
deceitful spouse, and nearly murdered her companion, the same old Marquis
of Steyne, knight of the garter, lord of the powder-box, trustee of the
British Museum, etc.

When we come to the end of that passage, we put the book on our lap and
lean back in the chair, and, while we are still glowing with the
excitement of the scene, we are filled with admiration of the genius
which produced it.  How did Thackeray achieve his effects?  Becky Sharp
is a unique and permanent figure in literature, a subtle embodiment of
duplicity, ambition, and selfishness.  She is avaricious, hypocritical,
specious, and crafty.  Though not malignant nor to a certainty criminal,
she is a conscienceless little malefactor, whose ill deeds are only
limited by the ignoble dimensions of her passions.  She lies with amazing
glibness, is utterly faithless to her hulking husband, and utterly
indifferent to her child.  Her mendacity is superlative, and
double-dealing enters into all her transactions.  But she is so shrewd,
so vivacious, so artful, so immensely clever and good-humoured, she has
so much prettiness of manner and person, that, while we despise her, and
have not the least pity for her when retribution falls heavily upon her,
our indignation against her is not so great as we feel that it ought to
be, principally because her sins have a certain feminine archness and
irresponsibility in them, which keeps them well down to the level of
comedy.  When we close the book we know her through and through, and
thoroughly understand all the complex workings of her strategic mind.
How do we know her so well?  Thackeray is not exegetical, and does not
depend on elaborate analysis for his effects.  The actions of the
characters are themselves fully expository, and do not call for any
outside comments or enlargement on the part of the author.  This is the
case to such an extent that, when we examine the completeness with which
the characters are revealed to us, we are inclined to believe that
Thackeray’s art is of the very highest kind, and that, though in form it
is undramatic, intrinsically it is powerfully dramatic.

But we are straying from our purpose, which is simply to look for
ourselves at the places which he has described.  Across the way from the
bottom of Chancery Lane is the Temple, to the interest of which he has
added many associations.  He was fond of its dark alleys, archways,
courts, and back stairs.

In 1834 he was called to the bar, and for some time he occupied chambers
in the venerable buildings with the late Tom Taylor.  His rooms, which
were at number 10 Crown Office Row, have disappeared before
“improvements” that present a modern front to the gardens and the river.
Philip had chambers in the Temple, and there, also, in classic Lamb’s
Court, Pendennis and Warrington were located.

Warrington smoking his cutty pipe, and writing his articles—the
fine-hearted fellow, the unfortunate gentleman, the unpedantic scholar,
who took Pendennis by the hand and introduced him to Grub street when
that young unfortunate came to the end of his means.  George Warrington
teaches us a new lesson in manhood, in patience, in self-abnegation.  His
lot is full of sorrow, his cherished ambitions are impossible, through no
fault of his own, but it is not in him to surrender to “the dull gray
life and apathetic end,”—his contentment is the repose of a generous
nature, his cheeriness with his pipe and his work springs out of a calmly
philosophic mind, a satisfied conscience, a profound faith, and when we
pass through Lamb’s court, not least in our affections is the shadow of
him.

“The man of letters cannot but love the place which has been inhabited by
so many of his brethren, and peopled by their creations as real to us at
this day, as the authors whose children they were,” and says Thackeray.
“Sir Roger de Coverley walking in the Temple garden, and discoursing with
Mr. Spectator about the beauties in hoops and patches who are sauntering
over the grass, is just as lively a figure to me, as old Samuel Johnson
rolling through the fog with the Scotch gentleman at his heels, on their
way to Mr. Goldsmith’s chambers in Brick court, or Harry Fielding, with
inked ruffles and a wet towel round his head, dashing off articles at
midnight for the _Covent Garden Journal_, while the printer’s boy is
asleep in the passage.”

Leaving the Temple, we once more enter Smithfield, to look for the site
of the old Fleet prison, the scene of many episodes in the stories of
Dickens.  It was in this strange place, that the brilliant, but
thriftless Captain Shandon lived, “one of the wisest, wittiest, and most
incorrigible of Irishmen;” here Pendennis found him sitting on a bed, in
a torn dressing gown, with a desk on his knees: here a prisoner for debt,
he indited the prospectus of the _Pall Mall Gazette_, which was so
called, he said, because its editor was born in Dublin, and the
sub-editor (excellent Jack Finucane) at Cork; because the proprietor
lived in Paternoster Row, and the paper was published in Catherine
Street, Strand.  This imaginary title of Thackeray’s was not the only one
afterwards adopted by a real newspaper.  He writes of the _Whitehall
Review_ as an opposing print, and that is now the name of a successful
London journal.

The Fleet is a thing of the past, and the attributes of Captain Shandon
have no inheritors in the press of to-day.  A knight armed cap-à-pie in
Cheapside, would not be a more antiquated figure, than the boozy scholar
editing a reputable journal in the cell of a prison.  Journalism has
taken off its soft hat and shabby clothes; it has mended its erring and
improvident ways, and put on the manners of polite society.  Not in a
tap-room, with jorums of hot whiskey, Welsh rabbits, and devilled chops
does the modern scribe regale himself.  He has a club somewhere in
Adelphi, or St. James’, where he presents himself in sedate evening
dress, he turns pale at the very mention of supper, and, instead of
singing old English songs, sadly compares notes with his
fellow-dyspeptics.  A vulgar public-house, or low music hall stands on
the site of the Haunt and the Back Kitchen.  When Warrington, Pendennis,
Tom Sarjeant, Clive Newcome, and Fred. Bayham frequented the Haunt, and
joined in the diversions of the literary democracy, there was a
superstition among them, that the place vanished at the approach of
daybreak, that when Betsy turned the gas off at the door lamp, as the
company went away, the whole thing faded into mist—the door, the house,
the bar, Betsy, the beer-boy, Mrs. Nokes, and all.  Whether this was so
or not, it has now vanished, not for a day, but for ever, like Captain
Shandon, and the wild Bohemianism of his time. {42}



V.


It is only a minutes’ walk from the corner of Fleet Lane, to the street
of booksellers, Paternoster Row, in which the rival publishers, Bungay
and Bacon lived—Bacon in an ancient low-browed building, with a few of
his books displayed in the windows under a bust of my Lord Verulam; and
Bungay in the house opposite, which was newly painted, and elaborately
decorated in the style of the seventeenth century, “so that you might
have fancied stately Mr. Evelyn passing over the threshold, or curious
Mr. Pepys examining the books in the windows.”  _The_ Row, so called—as
financiers arrogantly call Wall Street, _the_ Street—is not wider than an
alley way, and in this respect it is exactly as it was when Warrington
introduced Pendennis to the editor of the _Parlor Table Annual_, wherein
his verses were published.  But though its breadth has not been
increased, the old buildings on both sides of it have given place in many
instances to towering new ones, five and six stories high, which shut out
the light, and keep the editors, compilers, printers, engravers, and
book-binders, who are the principal laborers of the Row, in an all-day
gloom.  Both Bungay and Bacon had their domestic establishments over
their shops, and their wives, who were sisters, thus had an opportunity
to insult one another by looks and mute signs from their opposite
windows.  Bungay and Bacon, and their belligerent spouses are now out of
the trade, and the annual _Souvenirs_ and _Keepsakes_ which made a part
of their business, belong to an extinct form of literature.  The Row is
full of Grub Street curiosities; but Lady Fanny Fantail, Miss Bunion, and
the Honorable Percy Popinjay are seen within its precincts no more, and
if they still exist, they probably find a new field for their
distinguished services in the society papers.

Let anyone strike out which way he will from Fleet Street, he is sure to
find himself in the presence of something which reminds him of Dickens,
near some object which his humor has made famous, or which answers to one
of his luminous descriptions.

The slums between the Strand and Soho, and between Smithfield and
Clerkenwell, were fertile to him, and not a _gamin_ there knew the
winding alleys, and crisscross streets better than the gentleman with the
high complexion, the sparkling eye, the iron-gray beard, the well-cut
dress, and the brisk step, who might have been seen speeding through them
at all sorts of unusual hours.  One day, he was heard of in Ratcliff
Highway, or among the riverside shanties of Poplar, and the next, among
the bird shops of Seven Dials, or in the courts of Lambeth.  When we
contrast the little we have found of Thackeray in the neighbourhood
through which we have just been, with the variety and suggestiveness of
the reminiscences of Dickens in the same region, our search seems
disappointing.

As we have said Thackeray was not a novelist of low life.  “Perhaps,” he
says in the preface to _Pendennis_: “the lovers of excitement may care to
know that this book began with a very precise plan, which was entirely
put aside.  Ladies and Gentlemen, you were to have been treated, and the
writer’s and publisher’s pocket benefited by the recital of the most
active horrors.  What more exciting than a ruffian (with many admirable
virtues) in St. Giles, visited constantly by a young lady from Belgravia?
What more stirring than the contrasts of society?  The mixture of slang
and fashionable language?  The escapes, the battles, the murders? . . . .
The exciting plan was laid aside (with a very honorable forbearance on
part of the publishers) because on attempting it, I found that I failed
from want of experience of my subject; and never having been intimate
with any convict in my life, and the manners of ruffians and gaol-birds
being quite unfamiliar to me, the idea of entering into competition with
M. Eugene Sue was abandoned.”



VI.


Though in the east end of the town and in the south, Thackeray has left
few footsteps, for us to follow, in ancient and comfortable Bloomsbury,
and the region to the west of it and north of Oxford street (called De
Quincey’s step-mother), we find much to remind us of him.  It was in
Russell Square that the Sedleys lived in the time of their prosperity,
and thence, on the evening after the arrival of gentle Amelia from the
boarding school at Chiswick, a messenger was sent for George Osborne,
whose house was No. 96.  Russell Square is the largest and handsomest of
the chain of squares which extend, almost without a break, from Oxford
street to the New Road—Bloomsbury Square, Woburn Square, Gordon Square,
Tavistock Square, and Euston Square.  The neighbourhood has seen many
strange shifts of fortune, and some of the finest of its mansions are
debased to the uses of common boarding-houses and private hotels.  There
are streets and streets of houses with white cards in the windows
announcing “Lodgings to let.”  Sombre old houses they are, built of
brick, with flat, uninteresting fronts, the sooty darkness of which is
sometimes relieved by a yellowish portico, freshly painted, or a plaster
shell of a drab colour reaching from the basement to the second story.
The cheeriness of the spreading trees in the little parks, the flowering
shrubs, the shining fountains, and the grass, are only a partial
alleviation.  Russell Square has deteriorated less than some of the other
places in the neighbourhood, however, and the houses around it would not
be beneath the inclinations of a prosperous merchant such as old Sedley
was.  We look in vain for 96; the numbers do not go as high as that; but
we have no difficulty in singling out the respectable dwelling on the
western side in which poor Amelia sighed for her selfish lover, and Becky
Sharp set her cap at the corpulent Mr. Jos.

How sad the story of the Sedleys is!—the unrequited love of Amelia—the
untimely death of George at Waterloo—the failure of old Sedley, and the
cold-heartedness of the elder Osborne!  The decayed merchant musing over
all sorts of fatuous schemes by which he hopes to recover his position,
and sitting in the dark corner of a coffee-house with his letters spread
out before him—letters relating to a make-believe and visionary
business—which he is anxious to read to every friend, is the most
touching picture, after the death of Colonel Newcome, which Thackeray has
drawn.

“What guest at Dives’s table can pass the familiar house without a
sigh?—the house of which the lights used to shine so cheerfully at seven
o’clock—of which the hall doors opened so readily—of which the obsequious
servants, as you passed up the comfortable stairs, sounded your name from
landing to landing, until it reached the apartment where jolly old Dives
welcomed his friends!  What a number of them he had!  What a noble way of
entertaining them! . . . How changed is the house, though!  The front is
patched over with bills, setting forth the particulars of the furniture
in staring capitals.  They have hung a shred of carpet out of the
upstairs window—a half dozen of porters are lounging on the dirty
steps—the hall swarms with dingy guests of oriental countenance, who
thrust printed cards into your hands, and offer to bid.  Old women and
amateurs have invaded the upper apartments, pinching the bed curtains,
poking the feathers, shampooing the mattresses, and clapping the wardrobe
drawers to and fro. . . . O Dives, who would have thought, as we sat
round the broad table sparkling with plate and spotless linen, to have
such a dish at the head of it as that roaring auctioneer?”

Among the bidders was a six-foot, shy-looking military gentleman, who
bought a piano, and sent it without any message to the little house—St.
Adelaide Villa, Anna Maria Road, West—to which the Sedleys had retired
after their downfall, and there, as the reader no doubt remembers, Amelia
received it with great gladness, believing that it came from her
well-beloved George.

It was years before she discovered that it was not her faithless lover,
but simple, brave, tender-hearted Captain Dobbin, to whom she should have
been grateful.  It was in Hart street, two blocks nearer Oxford street
than Russell Square, that little George Osborne went to school at the
house of the Rev. Laurence Veal, domestic chaplain to the Earl of
Bareacres, who prepared young noblemen and gentlemen for the
universities, the senate, and the learned professions, whose system did
not embrace the degrading corporal severities still practiced at the
ancient places of education, and in whose family the pupils found the
elegancies of refined society, and the confidence and affection of a
home.  Thither came poor Amelia, walking all the way from Brompton to
catch a glimpse of her darling boy, who had been taken away from her by
his obdurate grandfather.

Great Russell street is next to Hart street, and on it fronts the classic
portico of the British Museum, in the splendid reading-room of which
Thackeray was often seen.  It was in Great Coram street, adjoining the
celebrated foundling hospital, that he lived, when, one evening, he
called on a young man who had chambers in Furnival’s Inn, and offered to
illustrate the works which were beginning to make “Boz” famous; and we
can see him coming back to his lodgings in low spirits over the rejection
of his proposal, for at that time Thackeray was poor, and neither
literature nor art, which he loved the better, would support him.

About half a mile farther north, across Tottenham Court Road, is Fitzroy
Square; and when we look for 120, we find that 40 is the highest number
which the Square includes.  Though the little circular garden which it
incloses is prettily laid out, and is one of the leafiest of the oases
between Euston and Bloomsbury, Fitzroy has degenerated more than some of
the other squares in the neighborhood.  It was not very fashionable when
Colonel Newcome took No. 120 with James Binnie, and it is not fashionable
at all now.  One side is badly out of repair.  There are two or three
doctors’ houses in it, several houses with announcements of apartments to
let, and a private hotel.  The particular house occupied by the Colonel
and his old Indian friend cannot be easily identified by Thackeray’s
description.  “The house is vast, but, it must be owned, melancholy.  Not
long since, it was a ladies’ school in an unprosperous condition.  The
scar left by Madame Latour’s brass plate may still be seen on the tall
black door, cheerfully ornamented in the style of the end of the last
century, with a funereal urn in the centre of the entry and garlands, and
the skulls of rams at each corner.”  We fancy that it was on the south
side of the square, near the middle of a row of heavy sepulchral houses
built of stone, which, first blackened by the London smoke, have since
been unevenly calcined by the atmosphere, so that, as in many other
buildings, they look as if a quantity of dirty whitewash had been allowed
to trickle down them.  Some of the ornaments have been removed, but the
urn is still over the door.

The days spent here were the happiest in the lives of the good old
Colonel and his son.  The Colonel had just returned from India full of
honors and riches, and with his old chum, James Binnie, he kept house
with lavish hospitality, and much originality.  “The Colonel was great at
making hot-pot, curry, and pillau,” Pendennis tells us.  “What cozy pipes
did we not smoke in the dining-room, in the drawing-room, or where we
would!  What pleasant evenings did we not have with Mr. Binnie’s books
and Schiedam!  Then there were solemn state dinners, at most of which the
writer of this biography had a corner.”  The guests at these
entertainments were not selected for their social position or their
worldly prosperity, and it mattered not whether they were rich or poor,
well dressed or shabby, if they were friends.  Old Indian Officers were
among them, and young artists with unkempt ways from Newman street and
Berners street; the genial F. B. waltzed with elderly houris and paid
them compliments; Professor Gandish talked about art with many misplaced
h’s, and the Rev. Charles Honeyman sighed and posed and meekly received
the adulation of the women.

Despite the failure of the Bundlecomb Bank, the later part of the history
of the Newcomes would have been less sad but for that accident to Mr.
Binnie, in which he fell from his horse and was so much injured that Mrs.
Mackenzie—the “awful” campaigner—was called in to nurse him with the aid
of poor little Rosey.  Fitzroy Square is so old that its gloomy houses
must have known much sorrow; but we doubt if any of them has seen
anything more pitiable than the humiliation of Colonel Newcome, or
anything crueller than the remorseless tyranny of the “campaigner” and
her fierce temper—the “campaigner,” who was all smiles, coquetry, and
amiability, until prosperity fled from those who had been her
benefactors, when she suddenly revealed all the pettiness and harshness
of her termagant soul.

Three streets away from the Square is Howland street, to which Clive
removed with his weak little wife and his spiteful mother-in-law when
disaster fell upon him; and every reader of Thackeray will remember how
Pendennis, Clive, and Boy went out to meet the broken-hearted old man as
he came along Guilford street and Russell Square, from the Charterhouse
to eat his last Christmas dinner.

When we close the history of Colonel Newcome we ask ourselves if any man
who moves our hearts as Thackeray does, could be a cynic?  Cynicism is a
withering of the heart, the exhaustion of a shallow moral nature, the
self-consciousness of an ignoble mind.  But what pathos is so
spontaneous, so genuine, so lasting as Thackeray’s—so free from the
literary trickery which may produce tears in youth, but only provokes a
smile when age has dulled the feelings and opened the eyes to artifice.
Among all English authors the writer of this little book, at least, does
not recognize one who is more unaffectedly tender than this great Social
preacher, who speaks with unflinching candour of evil, but glorifies all
good, and reads with unfeigned pity the lessons of life.



VII.


Before Thackeray died, he had become as familiar a figure in the West End
of London as Dr. Johnson was in Fleet street and its tributary courts and
lanes.  Any one who did not know him might have supposed him to be an
indolent man about town; and those who could identify him generally knew
where to find him, if they wished to show the great author to a friend
from the country.  He was usually present in the Park at the fashionable
hour; and if the Pall Mall of his day is ever painted, his face and form
will be as inseparable from a truthful picture as the mammoth bulk of the
testy lexicographer is from the contemporaneous prints of old Temple Bar.

Pall Mall is the street of gentlemen, as Fleet Street was the street of
the ragged literary mendicants, whose wretched lot has been drawn in
vivid colours by Macauley.  The people one meets in it are daintily
booted, gloved and hatted; a lady is not often seen among them.  It is,
as Thackeray himself said, “the social exchange of London:” the main
artery of Clubland, where civilized man has set up for himself all the
adjuncts of luxurious celibacy, and congregates to discuss, undisturbed
by the impertinencies of feminine lack-logic, the news, the politics and
the scandal of the hour.  It is old and historic, haunted by the shadows
of many odd and famous persons, who reshape themselves unbidden in the
memory of those who know its annals.  The reminiscences bring out a
motley tenancy from the houses—Culloden, Cumberland and Gainsborough side
by side, pretty Eleanor Gwynn and Queen Caroline, Sarah Marlborough and
genial Walter Scott, George Selwyn and Dick Steele, Sheridan and William
Pitt, Walpole and Joseph Addison, and Fox and the Prince Regent!  The
greensward at the south end of the Athenæum Club was a part of the site
of Carlton House, the residence of the royal scapegrace, and we see
Thackeray, as he has described himself, a frilled and petticoated urchin
in his nurse’s care, peeping through the colonnade at the guards, as they
pace before the palace, and salute the royal chariots coming in and out.
Before he reached manhood the palace had disappeared, and many of the old
buildings in Pall Mall had been pulled down to make room for the
magnificent club houses, which now give the street its distinctive
character.  Not one of the new faces that appeared with the alterations
was more familiar to the men of his time than his, and among all the
princes, dandies, politicians, and scholars who filed through the street
and nodded to one another from their club windows, there was not one to
whom the reading part of this generation reverts with greater fondness
than to Thackeray.

Those who appreciate his books—a constantly increasing number—find it
difficult to understand how the author can be so misinterpreted as to be
accused of any narrowness of view or harshness of judgment.  To them
every line is testimony of a fatherly tenderness which grieves at the
necessity of its own rebuke, and though he is incapable of an apathetic
acquiescence in human weakness, and does not view mankind with the lazy
good nature of a neutral temper, the pervading spirit of his criticism
springs from a deep-welled charitableness.

One of the few stories told of him which would dispute his invariable
kindliness is of two friends who were walking in the West End when they
saw Thackeray approaching them from the opposite direction.  One of them
had met him before, and the other had not.  The former made a
demonstrative salutation, which the author barely acknowledged as he
loftily passed along.  “You wouldn’t believe that he sat up with us
drinking punch and singing _Dr. Martin Luther_ until three o’clock this
morning,” said the person, who felt aggrieved at his chilling reception,
to his friend.  Now supposing that the story is authentic—that two
friends did meet him under those circumstances, and that one of them had
been a sharer of his conviviality in the small hours, a further claim on
his recognition was not necessarily justified, and he did not violate any
rule of good breeding in discouraging it.  But there are some who feel
emboldened by the smallest politeness of a great man to consider
themselves intimate with him, and who once having seen him come down from
his pedestal to smoke a cutty pipe in a miscellaneous company ever
afterwards look upon him as a comrade.

The loveableness of his character is well remembered at the Athenæum
Club, and the old servants, especially, speak of his kindness to them.
The club house is at the corner of Waterloo Place and Pall Mall—a
drab-coloured, sedate, classic building, with a wide frieze under the
cornice—in a line with the Guards, the Oxford and Cambridge, the Reform,
the Traveller’s, and many other clubs.  Opposite to it is the United
Service Club, midway is the memorial column to the Duke of York, and only
a few yards away are Carlton Terrace and the steps leading into St.
James’s Park.  Marlborough House, the home of the Prince of Wales, and
unpalatial St. James’s Palace, are close by.

Thackeray’s name appears on the roll of the Athenæum as that of a
barrister; but he was elected in 1851 as “author of _Vanity Fair_,
_Pendennis_, and other well-known works of fiction.”

He was elected under Rule II., which is worth quoting, as it is designed
to preserve the character of the Club.  “It being essential to the
maintenance of the Athenæum, in conformity with the principles upon which
it was originally founded, that the annual introduction of a certain
number of persons of distinguished eminence in Science, Literature or the
Arts, or for Public Services, should be secured, a limited number of
persons of such qualifications shall be elected by the Committee.  The
number so elected shall not exceed Nine each year . . . The Club intrust
this privilege to the Committee, in the entire confidence that they will
only elect persons who have attained to distinguished eminence in
Science, Literature, or the Arts, or for Public Services.”

He used the club both for work and pleasure, and there are two corners of
the building to which his name has become attached, on account of his
association with them.  The dining-room is on the first floor, at the
left-hand side of the spacious entrance; and he usually sat at a table in
the nearest corner, where the sun shines plenteously through the high
windows, and makes rainbows on the white cloth in striking the glasses.
Theodore Hook had used the same table, and uncorked his wit with his wine
at it; but it was in a kindlier strain than the author of _Jack Brag_ was
capable of that Thackeray enlivened the friends who gathered around him.

From the Club window he probably saw many of his own characters going
along Pall Mall: little Barnes Newcome; Fred Bayham, with his big
whiskers; cumbrous Rawdon Crawley; the sinister Marquis of Steyne;
stylish little Foker; neat Major Pendennis; homely William Dobbin, and
the dashing Dr. Brand Firmin, as he drove up or down the Haymarket to or
from Old Parr street.  Most of them belonged to the fashionable or
semi-fashionable world, and the men were sure to be members of some of
the clubs in this neighbourhood.  No doubt he also saw Arthur Pendennis,
Clive Newcome, and Philip Firmin; but it is likely that they appeared
with the greatest distinctness when the blinds were drawn and the
reflection of his own face was visible in the darkened windows.

He was a _bon vivant_: fond of a nice little dinner, a connoisseur of
wines, the devotee of a good cigar, a willing receiver of many little
pleasures which an ascetic judgment would pronounce wasteful and
slothful.  He was inclined to be indolent and luxurious.  Had he not lost
his fortune, and been urged by necessity to write, it is to be feared
that his splendid gifts would never have been exercised, and that his
genius would have borne no more fruit than an unworked store of
unformulated and unanalysed mental impressions, known only to himself.
But his liking for choice little dinners was not wholly accountable to
his relish of the food or to the satisfaction of thus gratifying the
senses.  No reproach of excess or grossness of any kind attaches to his
character.  Though perhaps he was self-indulgent, he was not a
voluptuary.  His pleasure was as innocent as that of Colonel Newcome when
he visited the smoky depths of Bohemia with young Clive, and the dinner
was but the means of sociability and hospitality, the preparation for a
more intellectual treat, a key to the fetters which keep some hearts and
minds in this oddly-constituted and misgiving world from the openness and
confidence of brotherhood.

It was not a cold or formal honour that was conferred upon those who sat
with him.  When they were taken into his confidence, no friend could be
more jovial or unrestrained than he was.  The simplicity of the man was
one of his greatest charms.  He could not endure affectations and
mannerisms.  He talked without effort, without hesitation, and without
any of the elaborateness which comes of egotistic cogitation, and the
desire to present oneself in the most favourable light.  He was one of
the most “natural” of men, if the word is taken as meaning the absence of
self-disguise; and at these little dinners and in the smoke-room,
figuratively speaking, he usually had his slippers on, and his feet
stretched out on the hearth-rug. {72}

The modern smoking-room of the Club is under the garden, upon which the
dining room of Carlton House once stood; but in Thackeray’s time a very
small apartment near the top of the building, served for those addicted
to the dreamy weed, and he was among them.  He was not a great smoker,
though he usually had a cigar at hand; he coquetted with it, puffed at it
awhile and watched the blue wreaths vanishing towards the ceiling, and
then put it down, or let it go out.  He did not apply himself to it with
the constancy and caressing intentness of complete enjoyment, but was
fitful, as if the pleasure he derived was dubious.

Much of the pleasure of his life was dubious.  We have here seen but one
side of his character, the geniality which was unextinguished by an
inherent sadness of temperament: the comfortableness of his hours of
relaxation.  But he was not a happy man, even when he had achieved
success, and his powers had been fully recognized.  Self-confidence is an
ingredient of genius which was lacking in him.  He was always in doubt
about his work, he trusted his judgment when he discovered defects in it,
but never felt sure of its merits.  More distressing than all else was
his procrastination: the heart-breaking and peace-destroying spectre of
postponed work was too often before him, and he was often crippled by his
hesitation and despair.

The south-west corner of the South library, on the second floor of the
Club, is filled with books of English history, and some of his work was
done there.  Therefrom, no doubt, some of the material of the lectures on
the Georges was drawn; he could look out of the window on the very site
of Carlton House, now a square of grass and flowers; and probably on
these shelves he found some help in completing _Esmond_ and developing
_The Virginians_.  He often left the library looking fatigued and
troubled, and he was sometimes heard complaining of the perplexity he
found in disposing of this character or that, and asserting that he knew
that what he was writing would fail.

He divided his time between the Athenæum Club, the Reform, and the
Garrick.  Contiguous to the first two is the neighborhood of St. James’s,
which principally consists of clubs, bachelors’ chambers, and fashionable
shops, and is associated with many of Thackeray’s characters.  At No. 88
St. James’s street, in a building now demolished, he himself once
occupied chambers, and there began and finished _Barry Lyndon_.  Major
Pendennis had chambers in Bury street, a narrow lane coming from
Piccadilly parallel with St. James’s street; and it was in them that the
famous scene took place between the shrewd old soldier and Mr. Morgan, in
which that rebellious flunky was brought whining to his knees by the
strategic courage of his master.  We have searched the neighbourhood for
the “Wheel of Fortune” public-house, which Mr. Morgan frequented to
discuss with other gentlemen’s gentlemen, gentlemen’s affairs.  It is not
to be found; and Bury street has scarcely a house in it that looks old
enough to have been the Major’s.  But St. James’s Church is here—a gloomy
old building of smoky brick with lighter trimmings of stone; and the
reader may remember how, one day, Esmond and Dick Steele were walking
along Jermyn street after dinner at the Guards’, when they espied a fair,
tall man in a snuff-coloured suit, with a plain sword, very sober, and
almost shabby in appearance, who was poring over a folio volume at a
book-shop close by the church; and how Dick, shining in scarlet and gold
lace, rushed up to the student and took him in his arms and hugged him;
and how the object of these demonstrations proved to be Addison, who
invited Steele and Esmond to his chambers in the Haymarket, where he read
verses of the _Campaign_ to them, and regaled them with pipes and
Burgundy.  I never walk through Jermyn street, or past the old church,
without seeing these three figures, and they are no more like shadows
than any in the nineteenth century throng which fills the street.

Willis’s Rooms, formerly Almack’s, are in King street, which is parallel
to Jermyn street, and it was in them, that Thackeray gave his lectures.



VIII.


Thackeray constantly mixes up real with fictitious names in his
descriptions.  Some disguise was often necessary, and sometimes even
compulsory.  He could not be as explicit or as literal as Dickens,
because most of his characters represented a very different class.  The
latter could draw in detail the house he selected as most appropriate for
the occupation of Sairey Gamp, because the actual tenants were not likely
to find him out, or, if they ever read his description, to quarrel with
it.  But many of the clients whom Thackeray had to provide with dwellings
were great people, and could only be placed in great neighbourhoods,
where the houses are large, conspicuous, and easily distinguished.  He
either had to omit any descriptive detail, or to mask the actual place he
had in mind by locating it in some street or square with a fanciful name.
Any student of his works will have no difficulty, however, in finding
Gaunt House, Gaunt Square, and Great Gaunt street, if he makes a personal
search for them in Mayfair, though they are not indicated in any map or
directory.

Mayfair (let me say for the benefit of my readers who are so unfortunate
as not to knew London) is one of the three most fashionable
neighbourhoods of the great metropolis, and of the three it is the most
aristocratic and most ancient.  It is, as nearly as possible, a square,
about half a mile wide and three-quarters of a mile long, bounded at one
end by Oxford street, with its shops and plebeian traffic, at the other
end by the most delightful of London streets, Piccadilly; at one side by
Bond street, and at the other by Park Lane, the houses in which overlook
the beautiful expanse of Hyde Park.  The names of some of its streets
have become synonymous with patrician pomp and the affluence of
inheritance.  It is the highest heaven of social aspiration, the most
exalted object of worldly veneration.  This is the house of the Duke of
Hawksbury; this of the Earl of Tue-brook; that of Viscount Wallasey, and
that of Lord Arthur Bebbington.  It is preëminently the region of the
“quality.”  But let not the reader suppose that it is a region of
exterior splendor, of spacious architecture, of brilliant appearance.

Belgravia is far grander to look at, and seems to possess greater riches,
and to use them more lavishly.  Even Tyburnia, the neighborhood to the
north of Hyde Park, is more suggestive of social eminence.  Mayfair
displays none of the signs of the rude enjoyment and proud assertiveness
which spring from recent prosperity.  It is old-fashioned, un-changing,
and dull.  It is little different from what it was at the beginning of
the century, except that it is nearer decay, and that febrile irruptions
of modern Queen Anne architecture occasionally vary the sombreness of its
original style.  The physiognomy of its houses expresses a sort of
torpor, as if familiarity with honours were as wearisome as continuous
association with misfortune.  They have an air of funereal resignation.
Many of the streets are short and narrow: many of the houses are dingy.
The ornaments are of a sepulchral kind, such as urns over the door-ways,
and funeral wreaths about the porticoes.  The blazoned heraldry of the
hatchments has been nearly extinguished by the smoke.  At some doors
there are two incongruous obelisks, joined to the iron railing which
screens the basement, and the portico is extended to the curb.  But
ornaments even as unsatisfactory as these are not common, and most of the
houses, with high fronts of blackened brick and oblong windows, are
unadorned, except by a few boxes of flowers on the sills.  The lackeys,
with crimson knee-breeches, white stockings, laced coats, buckled shoes,
and powdered hair, blaze in this gloom with a pyrotechnic splendour.
Occasionally, the uniform rows of smoky brick and pointed stucco houses
are overshadowed by a larger mansion, shut within its own walls, and some
of the streets enter spacious squares, where there are sooty trees and
grass and chirping sparrows.

It is possible that Thackeray had no exact place in mind when he wrote of
Gaunt House and Gaunt Square, but it is not likely.  The creatures of his
imagination were flesh and blood to him, too vital to be left without
habitations.  “All the world knows,” he says in _Vanity Fair_, “that
Gaunt House stands in Gaunt Square, out of which Great Gaunt street leads
. . . Gaunt House occupies nearly a side of the square.  The remaining
three sides consist of mansions which have passed away into dowagerism.
. . .  It has a dreary look, nor is Lord Steyne’s palace less dreary.  All
to be seen of it is a vast wall in front, with rustic columns at the
great gate.”  Berkeley Square almost exactly corresponds with this
description.  Here are the gloomy mansions, looking out on grass and
trees which seem to belong to a cemetery, and here, immediately
recognizable, is the palace, filling nearly a side of the square, and
shut within high walls to hide what they inclose from the prying eyes of
the passers, though the upper stories can be seen from the opposite side
of the way.  Here is the very gate, with heavy knockers, though the
rustic columns of Thackeray’s text have been replaced by new ones of a
different shape.  We do not find in the middle of the square the statue
of Lord Gaunt, “in a three-tailed wig, and otherwise habited like a Roman
emperor,” but we can identify almost every other detail of the picture.
Now, as this palace has long been occupied by a noble family, it would
not be just for us to mention the name of the house, lest some undeserved
reproach should thereby fall on the tenants; for, while Thackeray
described the locality with such faithful elaboration it is not to be
inferred that he drew the character of Lord Steyne from an actual person
living in the neighbourhood; nothing indeed, could be less probable.

He also speaks of the square as Shiverley Square, and briefly mentions it
in describing Becky’s drive to the house of Sir Pitt Crawley: “Having
passed through Shiverley Square into Great Gaunt street, the carriage at
length stopped at a tall, gloomy house, between two other tall, gloomy
houses, each with a hatchment over the middle drawing-room window, as is
the custom in Great Gaunt street, in which gloomy locality death seems to
reign perpetual.”

Great Gaunt street is undoubtedly Hill street, which he mentions
specifically in another place as the home of Lady Gaunt’s mother.
Sometimes it was necessary for him to invent a name, and when he did so
he was peculiarly apt.  Gaunt Square seems a more fitting and descriptive
name than Berkeley Square, but he frequently varied the real with the
fictitious name with playful caprice.

It was in another of these queer old streets in Mayfair that that wicked
old fairy godmother, the Countess of Kew, lived, and there (in Queen
street) Ethel Newcome visited her, and was instructed in the rigourous
social code which unites fortune with fortune, or fortune with rank, and
which is by no means limited to Mayfair or Belgravia, but finds
expositors and adherents under the bluer skies of America.  Ethel herself
lived with her mother in Park Lane, the western boundary of Mayfair, and
assuredly the most attractive part of the region.  Park Lane has all of
Hyde Park before its windows,—all the variegated and plentifully stocked
flower-beds of the Ring Road, the wide sweep of grassy playground, and
the knots of patriarchal trees which give the Park one of its greatest
charms.  Unlike most of the region behind it is cheerful; or, if not
exactly cheerful, it has not the mopish signs of withdrawal from all
natural human interests which are seen in many of the houses in Gaunt
Square and the tributary streets.  Some of the houses are small, with
oriel windows, and little balconies filled with flower-pots; some of them
are palatial in size and decoration; but all of them are fashionable, and
elderly bachelors are known to give incredibly large prices for the
smallest possible quarters under the roof of the meanest of them.  The
exteriors are not of the sooty brick which characterizes Hill street, but
of plaster, which is annually repainted in drab or cream colour at the
beginning of each season.  What with the flowers of the Park and the
gardens which lie before some of the houses, Park Lane seems a fitting
abode for those who are fortunate both in birth and in wealth; it is as
patrician as any other part of Mayfair, and it relieves itself of the
gloom which seems to be considered an inevitable accessory of
respectability elsewhere.

In one of these houses—which one it is not easy to say, as Thackeray has
given us no clue—Lady Ann Newcome lived, and at it Mrs. Hobson Newcome
looked from afar with an envy which betrayed itself in her constant
reiterations of her contentment with her own circumstances.  Mrs. Hobson
lived in Bryanston Square, a dingily verdant quadrangle north of Oxford
street, near which Clive had a studio; and J. J. Ridley, Fred Bayham,
Miss Cann, and the Rev. Charles Honeyman, lodged together in Walpole
street, Mayfair.  The Rev. Charles Honeyman’s chapel was close by, and
before the story of _Vanity Fair_ reached its end there was a charitable
lady in the congregation who wrote hymns and called herself Lady Crawley,
and from whom William Dobbin and Amelia Sedley, now united, shrunk as
they passed her at the fancy fair, recognizing in that altered person the
dreadful Becky.

In the eyes of the lover of Thackeray, no character of history or fiction
has lent more interest to Mayfair than Becky, to which neighbourhood she
came with her husband some two or three years after their return from
Paris, establishing herself in “a very small, comfortable house in Curzon
street,” and demonstrating to the world the useful and interesting art of
living on nothing a year.  There is more than one small house in Curzon
street, but among them all Becky’s is unmistakable.  It is on the south
side of the street, near the western end, and only a few doors farther
east than the house in which Lord Beaconsfield died.  It is four stories
and a half high, and is built of blackish brick like its neighbours, with
painted sills and portico.  Its extreme narrowness, compared with its
height, especially distinguishes it: the front door, with drab pilasters
and a moulded architrave, is just half its width, and only leaves room
for one parlour window on the first floor.  One can see over the railings
into the basement and through the kitchen windows.  Phantoms appear to us
in all the windows—the ghost of Becky herself, dressed in a pink dress,
her shapely arms and shoulders wrapped in gauze; her ringlets hanging
about her neck; her feet peeping out of the crisp folds of silk—“the
prettiest little feet in the prettiest little sandals in the finest silk
stockings in the world.”  It was in this cozy little domicile that the
arch little hypocrite entertained Lord Steyne, whose house in Gaunt
Square is only a few hundred yards distant, and Rawdon fleeced young
Southdown at cards.  No one can help smiling at the remembrances that
come upon him in looking at those basement windows.  No one who has read
_Vanity Fair_ is likely to forget the picture of the sensual marquis
gazing into the kitchen and seeing no one there just before he knocks at
the door, where he is met by Becky, who is as fresh as a rose from her
dressing-table, and who excuses her pretended dishabille by saying that
she has just come out of the kitchen, where she has been making pie, to
which palpable lie the marquis gives an audacious affirmation by adding
that he saw her there as he came in!

This little house was chosen for that scene in which Thackeray’s genius
rises to its highest point of dramatic intensity; and so many literary
pilgrims come to peep at it that the tenants must be annoyed, though the
policeman on the beat has become so accustomed to them that he no longer
eyes them cornerwise or suspects them of burglarious intentions.



IX.


The places with which Thackeray was personally associated are more
interesting, perhaps, than the scenes of his novels.  In 1834, he lived
in Albion street, near Hyde Park Gardens, and it was there that he, a
young man of twenty-three, began to contribute to _Fraser’s Magazine_.
In 1837, then newly married, he lived in Great Coram street, close by the
Foundling Hospital.  As I have stated, he had chambers at No. 10, Crown
Office Row, in the Temple, and at No. 88, St. James’s street, both of
which buildings are now demolished.  When he had become a successful
author, he lived in Brompton and Kensington, and at the latter place, to
which he was greatly attached, he died.  He was at No. 36, Onslow Square,
Brompton, when he unsuccessfully offered himself as member of Parliament
for Oxford, and two years later, when he began to discover the thorns in
the editorial cushion of the _Cornhill Magazine_.  Mr. James Hodder, his
private secretary, has given us an interesting glimpse of him as he was
while in Onslow Square:—

    “Duty called me to his bed-chamber every morning, and as a general
    rule I found him up and ready to begin work, though he was sometimes
    in doubt and difficulty as to whether he should commence sitting, or
    standing, or walking, or lying down.  Often he would light a cigar,
    and, after pacing the room for a few minutes, would put the unsmoked
    remnant on the mantel-piece and resume his work with increased
    cheerfulness, as if he gathered fresh inspiration from the gentle
    odours of the sublime tobacco.”

Little wonder that he liked Kensington.  It is the pleasantest of the
many pleasant London suburbs.  Though it is not four miles from Charing
Cross, to which it is knitted by continuous streets and houses, it is
like a thriving country town, old-fashioned, but prosperous, with shops
as brilliant and as well stocked as those of Regent street, and with many
evidences of antiquity, but none of decay.  There are lofty new buildings
and old ones, behind the modernized fronts of which you can see leaded
dormer windows, angular chimney-pots, and bowed-down roofs of red tiles.
There are many weather-worn but splendid mansions shut within their own
high walls, and some in less sequestered gardens.  The place is famous
for its fine old trees and open spaces of verdure.  Holland House is
here, and the palace in which Queen Victoria was born, with the beautiful
and deeply wooded gardens adjoining Hyde Park.  The inhabitants of the
old suburb have had many illustrious persons among them; and Thackeray is
one of those best and most affectionately remembered.

His tall, commanding figure was often seen in the old High street, moving
along erect, with a firm, stately tread, though his dress was somewhat
careless and loose-fitting; his large, candid face was serious and almost
severe as he walked on engaged in meditation, but, being awakened from
his reverie by the voice of a friend, a glad smile quickly overspread it
and illuminated it.  He had many friends among his neighbors, and often
sat down to dinner with them.  He attended regularly the nine o’clock
services in the old parish church on Sunday mornings.

From 1847 to 1853, Thackeray lived in the bay-windowed house known as the
“Cottage,” at No. 13 (now No. 16) Young street, and in it _Vanity Fair_,
_Esmond_, and _Pendennis_ were written.  There are few houses in the
great city which possess a more brilliant record than this.  Most of his
work was done in a second-story room, overlooking an open space of
gardens and orchards; and the gentleman who at present occupies the house
has placed an entablature under the window commemorating the genius that
has consecrated it.  Between the dates, 1847 and 1853, the initials W. M.
T. are grouped in a monogram in the centre of the entablature, and in the
border the names of _Vanity Fair_, _Esmond_, and _Pendennis_, are
inscribed.  Just across the street Miss Thackeray (Mrs. Ritchie) now
lives, in full view of her old home, and in her charming novel _Old
__Kensington_, she affectionately calls Young street “dear old street!”
There is no doubt that the happiest years of Thackeray’s life were spent
in the old, bow-windowed cottage. {99}

I have talked with many persons who knew him intimately, and under
various circumstances.  All speak of him in one way,—of his gentleness,
his kindliness, his sincerity, and his generosity.  “That man had the
heart of a woman!” fervidly said one who was his next-door neighbour for
several years.  This gentleman, Dr. J. J. Merriman, whose family have
lived in Kensington Square since 1794, possesses a number of valuable
souvenirs of the great author, including some unpublished letters, in one
of which Thackeray regrets that he has not seen the doctor for some time,
and characteristically adds: “I wish _Vanity Fair_ were not so big or we
performers in it so busy; then we might see each other and shake hands
once in a year or so.”  On one occasion the doctor begged him to write
his name in a copy of _Vanity Fair_ which Thackeray had given him, and
the latter not only did this, but made an exquisite little drawing on the
title-page, than which the book could not have a more suggestive or
appropriate frontispiece.  A little boy and girl are seated on the
ground, one blowing bubbles and the other hugging a doll, while behind
them looms up the portentous mile-stone of life.

The “dear old street,” as Miss Thackeray calls it, ends in Kensington
Square, which is full of old houses, to each of which some historic
interest belongs.  The square was built in the latter part of the
seventeenth century, and in one of the old houses Lady Castlewood,
Beatrice, and Colonel Esmond lived, and there sheltered the reckless and
unscrupulous Pretender. {101}

In 1853, Thackeray left Kensington and went to live in Onslow Square,
Brompton; but he came back to the old court suburb in 1861, and occupied
the fine new house which he had built for himself in the Palace Gardens.
It is the second house on the west side of the street, a substantial
mansion of red brick, adjoining a much more picturesque and older house
covered with ivy; and it was here that he died suddenly on December 24,
1863, in the room at the south-east corner of the second story.  The last
time that I saw it, an auctioneer’s flag was hung out, and the broker’s
men were playing billiards in the lofty northern extension which
Thackeray built for a library, and in which he wrote _Denis Duval_.

Thackeray was buried in Kensal Green cemetery in the north-west of
London, and was followed to the grave by Dickens, Browning, Millais,
Trollope, and many who knew the goodness of the soul that had been called
away.  Kensal Green is as unattractive as a burial ground could be.  It
is like a prison-yard, with few trees, and inclosed by high brick walls.
But its numerous tenantry include many who have worked faithfully and
well in literature and art; and surrounded by the memorials of these is
one of the simplest tombstones in the place, inscribed with two dates and
the name of William Makepeace Thackeray.



FOOTNOTES.


{5}  Mr. R. R. Bowker.

{15}  The school was founded by Thomas Sutton, a rich merchant, in 1611.
The buildings which are mostly of the 16th Century, had been used until
the Reformation, as a monastery of Carthusian monks.  “Charterhouse” is a
corruption of Chartreuse, and the scholars still call themselves
Carthusians.

{19}  Several relics of Thackeray are preserved in the new school at
Godalming, including some pen and ink sketches made by him, and five
volumes containing all the existing MS. of _The Newcomes_.  The MS. is
written partly in his own hand, partly in the hand of Miss Anne Thackeray
(now Mrs. Ritchie), and partly in another hand.  Several stones on which
some of the old scholars, including Thackeray, carved their names, have
also been removed from the old school in London to the new one.

{29}  One day, while the great novel of _The Newcomes_ was in course of
publication, Lowell, who was then in London, met Thackeray in the street.
The novelist was serious in manner, and his looks and voice told of
weariness and affliction.  He saw the kindly inquiry in the poet’s eyes,
and said, “Come into Evans’s, and I’ll tell you all about it.  _I have
killed the Colonel_!”  So they walked in, and took a table in a remote
corner, and then Thackeray, drawing the fresh sheets of MS. from his
breast pocket, read through that exquisitely touching chapter, which
records the death of Colonel Newcome.  When he came to the final _Adsum_,
the tears which had been swelling his lids for some time, trickled down
his face, and the last word was almost an inarticulate sob.—F. H.
UNDERWOOD, in _Harper’s Magazine_.

{42}  Mr. Edmund Yates states in his interesting _Memoirs of a Man of the
World_, that the Cider Cellars, next to the stage door of the Adelphi,
was the prototype of the Back Kitchen, immortalized in _Pendennis_.  The
Cave of Harmony, frequently mentioned by Thackeray, was sketched from
Evans’s, in Covent Garden.

{72}  “One day, many years ago, I saw him chaffing on the sidewalk in
London, in front of the Athenæum Club, with a monstrous-sized, ‘copiously
ebriose’ cabman, and I judged from the driver’s ludicrously careful way
of landing the coin deep down in his breeches-pocket, that Thackeray had
given him a very unusual fare.   ‘Who is your fat friend?’ I asked,
crossing over to shake hands with him.  ‘O! that indomitable youth is an
old crony of mine,’ he replied; and then, quoting Falstaff, ‘a goodly
portly man, i’ faith, and a corpulent, of a cheerful look, a pleasing
eye, and a most noble carriage.’  It was the _manner_ of saying this,
then and there, in the London street, the cabman moving slowly off on his
sorry vehicle, with one eye (an eye dewy with gin and water, and a tear
of gratitude, perhaps) on Thackeray, and the great man himself so jovial
and so full of kindness!”—_Yesterdays with Authors_.   J. T. FIELDS.

{99}  “I once made a pilgrimage with Thackeray (at my request, of course,
the visits were planned) to the various houses where his books had been
written; and I remember, when we came to Young street, Kensington, he
said, with mock gravity, ‘Down on your knees, you rogue, for here _Vanity
Fair_ was penned!  And I will go down with you, for I have a high opinion
of that little production myself.’”—_Yesterdays with Authors_.  J. T.
FIELDS.

{101}  Kensington Square has had many celebrated inhabitants, including
Talleyrand, Joseph Addison, the Duchess of Mazarin, and Archbishop
Herring.





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