Literary Shrines Of London
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The mind that can reverence historic associations needs no explanation of the charm that such associations possess. There are streets and houses in London which, for pilgrims of this class, are haunted with memories and hallowed with an imperishable light that not even the dreary commonness of everyday life can quench or dim. Almost every great author in English literature has here left some personal trace, some relic that brings you at once into his living presence. In the time of Shakespeare,—of whom it should be noted that, wherever found, he is found in elegant neighborhoods,—Aldersgate was a secluded, peaceful quarter of the town, and there the poet had his residence, convenient to the theater in Blackfriars, in which he owned a share. It is said that he dwelt at No. 134 Aldersgate Street (the house was long ago demolished), and in that region, amid all the din of traffic and all the discordant adjuncts of a new age, those who love him are in his company. Milton was born in a court adjacent to Bread Street, Cheapside, and the explorer comes upon him as a resident in St. Bride's churchyard,—where the poet Lovelace was buried,-and at No: 19 York Street, Westminster, in later times occupied by Jeremy Bentham and by William Hazlitt. When secretary to Cromwell he lived in Scotland Yard, now the headquarters of the London police. His last home was in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields, but the visitor to that spot finds it covered by the Artillery barracks. Walking through King Street, Westminster, you will not forget the great poet Edmund Spenser, who, a victim to barbarity, died there, in destitution and grief. Ben Jonson's terse record of that calamity says: "The Irish having robbed Spenser's goods and burnt his house and a little child new-born, he and his wife escaped, and after he died, for lack of bread, in King Street." Ben Jonson is closely associated with places that can. still be seen. He passed his boyhood near Charing Cross having been born in Hartshorn Lane, now Northumberland Street; he attended the parish school of St. Martin'sin-the-Fields; and persons who roam about Lincoln's Inn will call to mind that he helped to build it—a trowel in one hand and a volume of Horace in the other. His residence, in his day of fame, was outside the Temple Bar, but all that neighborhood is new.
The Mermaid,—which Jonson frequented, in companionship with Shakespeare, Fletcher, Her-rick, Chapman, and Donne? was in Bread Street, but no trace of it remains, and a banking house stands now on the site of the old Devil Tavern, in Fleet Street, a room in which, called "The Apollo," was the trysting place of the club of which he was the founder. The famous inscription, "0, rare Ben Jonson!" is three times cut in the Abbey; once in Poets' Corner and twice in the north aisle, where he was buried, a little slab in the pavement marking his grave. Dryden once dwelt in a quaint, narrow house, in Fetter Lane,—the street in which Dean Swift has placed the home of "Gulliver," and where the famous Doomsday Book was kept,—but, later, he removed to a finer dwelling, in Gerrard Street, Soho, which was the scene of his death. (The house in Fetter Lane was torn down in 1891.) Edmund Burke's house, also in Gerrard Street, is a beer-shop, but the memory of the great orator hallows the abode, and an inscription upon it proudly announces that here he lived. Dr. Johnson's house, in Gough Square, bears (or bore) a mural tablet, and standing at its time-worn threshold, the visitor needed no effort of fancy to picture that uncouth figure shambling through the crooked lanes that afford access to this queer, somber, melancholy retreat. In that house he wrote the first dictionary of the English language and the characteristic, memorable letter to Lord Chesterfield. The historical antiquarian society that has marked many of the literary shrines of London has rendered a signal service. The custom of marking the houses that are associated with renowned names is, obviously, a good one, because it provides instruction, and also because it tends to vitalize, in the general mind, a sense of the value of honor able repute: it ought, therefore, to be every-where adopted and followed. A house associated with Sir Joshua Reynolds and a house associated with Hogarth, both in Leicester Square, and houses associated with Benjamin Franklin and Peter the Great, in Craven Street; Sheridan, in Savile Row; Campbell, in Duke Street; Garrick, in the Adelphi Terrace; Mrs. Siddons, in Baker Street, and Michael Faraday, in Blandford Street, are only a few of the notable places which have been thus designated. More of such commemorative work remains to be done, and, doubtless, will be accomplished. The traveler would like to know in which of the houses in Buckingham Street Coleridge lodged, while he was translating "Wallenstein"; which house in Bloomsbury Square was the residence of Akenside, when he wrote "The Pleasures of Imagination," and of Croly, when he wrote "Salathiel"; or where it was that Gray lived, when he established his residence in Russel Square, in order to be one of the first (as he continued to be one of the most constant) students at the then newly opened British Museum (1759). . . . These records, and such as these, may seem trivialities, but Nature has denied an unfailing source of innocent pleasure to the person who can feel no interest in them. For my part, when rambling in Fleet Street it is a special delight to remember even so little an incident as that recorded of the author of the "Elegy"—that he once saw there his contemptuous critic, Dr. Johnson, shambling along the sidewalk, and murmured to a companion, "Here comes Ursa Major." For true lovers of literature "Ursus Major" walks oftener in Fleet Street today than any living man.
A good leading thread of literary research might be profitably followed by the student who should trace the footsteps of all the poets, dead and gone, that have held, in England, the office of laureate. John Kay was laureate in the reign of King Edward the Fourth; Andrew Bernard in that of King Henry the Seventh; John Skelton in that of King Henry the Eighth, and Edmund Spenser in that of Queen Elizabeth. Since then the succession has included the names of Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Ben Jonson, Sir William Devenant, John Dryden, Thomas Shadwell, Nahum Tate, Nicholas Rowe, Lawrence Eusden, Colley Cibber, William Whitehead, Thomas Warton, Henry James Pye, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and Alfred Tennyson. Most of those bards were intimately associated with London, and several of them are buried in the Abbey. It is, indeed, because so many storied names are written upon grave-stones that the explorer of the old churches of London finds in them so rich a harvest of instructive association and elevating thought. Few persons visit them, and you are likely to find yourself comparatively alone, in rambles of this kind. I went one morning into St. Martin's,—once "in-the-fields," now at the busy center of the city,—and found there only a pew-opener, preparing for the service, and an organist, practising music. It is a beautiful structure, with graceful spire and with columns of weather-beaten, gray stone, curiously stained with streaks of black, and it is almost as famous for theatrical names as St. Paul's, Covent Garden, or St. George's, Bloomsbury, or St. Clement Danes. There, in a vault beneath the church, was buried the • bewitching, generous Nell Gwynn; there is the grave of James Smith, joint author with his brother Horace, who was buried at Tunbridge Wells; of "The Rejected Addresses"; there rests Richard Yates, the original "Sir Oliver Surface"; and there were laid the ashes. of the romantic Mrs. Centlivre, and of George Farquhar, whom neither youth, genius, patient labor, nor sterling achievement could save from a life of misfortune and an untimely, piteous death. A cheerier association of this church is with the poet Thomas Moore, who was there married. At St. Giles's-in-the-Fields are the graves of George Chapman, who translated Homer; Andrew Marvel, who wrote such lovely lyrics; Rich, the manager, who brought out "The Beggar's Opera," and James Shirley, the fine dramatist and poet, whose immortal couplet has often been murmured in such solemn haunts as these:
Only the actions of the just
Shirley was one of the most fertile, accomplished, admirable, and admired of writers, during the greater part of his life (1596-1666), and the study of his writing amply rewards the diligence of the student. His plays, about forty in number, of which "The Traitor" is deemed the best tragedy and "The Lady of Pleasure" the best comedy, comprehend a wide variety of subject and exhibit refinement, deep feeling, and sustained fluency of graceful expression. His name is associated with St. Albans, where he dwelt as a school-teacher, and, in London, with Gray's Inn, where at one time he resided.