Lockhart, Bernard Barton And London Chimes And Greenwich Fair
( Originally Published 1889 )
My circumstances, on arriving at London, were again very reduced. A franc and a halt constituted the whole of my funds. This, jollied to the knowledge of London expenses, rendered instant exertion necessary, to prevent still greater embarrassment. I called on a printer the next morning, hoping to procure work, but found, as I had no documents with me to show I had served a regular apprenticeship, this would be extremely difficult, although workmen were in great demand. Mr. Putnam, however, on whom I had previously called, gave me employment for a time in his publishing establishment, and thus I was fortunately enabled to await the arrival of a remittance from home.
Mrs. Trollope, whom I met in Florence, kindly-gave me a letter to Murray, the publisher, and I visited him soon after my arrival. In his library I saw the original portraits of Byron, Moore, Campbell, and the other authors who were intimate with him and his father. A day or two afterwards I had the good fortune to breakfast with Lockhart and Bernard Barton. at the house of the former. Mr. Murray, through whom the invitation was given, accompanied me there. As it was late when we arrived at Regent's Park, we found them waiting, and sat down immediately to breakfast.
I was much pleased with Lockhart's appearance' and manners. He has a noble, manly countenance-in fact, the handsomest English face I ever saw-a quick, dark eye and an ample forehead, shaded by locks which show, as yet, but few threads of gray. There is a peculiar charm in his rich, soft voice; especially when re-citing poetry, it has a clear, organ-like vibration, which thrills deliciously on the ear. His daughter, who sat at the head of the table, is a most lovely and amiable girl.
Bernard Barton, who is now quite an old man, is a very lively and sociable Friend. His head is gray and almost bald, but there is still plenty of fire in his eyes and life in his limbs. His many kind and amiable qualities endear him to a large circle of literary friends. He still continues writing, and within the last year has brought out a volume of simple, touching " Household Verses." A picture of cheerful and contented old age has never been more briefly and beautifully drawn, than in the following lines, which he sent me, in answer to my desire to possess one of his poems in his own hand :
I feel that I am growing old,
I cannot roam the country round,
But on my mental vision rise
Nor can infirmities o'erwhelni
My heart! let not dismay or doubt
During breakfast he related to us a pleasant anecdote of Scott. He once wrote to the poet in behalf of a young lady, who wished to have the description of Melrose, in the" Lay of the last Minstrel," in the poet's own writing. Scott sent it, but added these lines to the conclusion:
"Then go, and muse with deepest awe
We went afterwards into Lockhart's library, which was full of interesting objects. I saw the private diary of Scott, kept until within a short time of his death. It was melancholy to trace the gradual failing of all his energies in the very wavering of the autograph. In 'a large volume of his correspondence, containing letters from Campbell, Wordsworth, Byron, and all the distinguished characters of the age, I saw Camp-bell's " Battle of the Baltic " in his own hand. I was highly interested and gratified with the whole visit ; the more so, as Mr. Lockhart had invited me voluntarily, without previous acquaintance. I have since heard him spoken of in the highest terms of esteem,
I went one Sunday to the Church of St. Stephen, to hear Croly, the poet. The service, read by a drowsy clerk, was long and monotonous; I sat in a side-aisle, looking up at the dome, and listening to the rain which dashed in torrents against the window-panes. At last, a tall, gray-haired man came down the passage. He bowed with a sad smile, so full of benevolence and resignation, that it went into my heart at once, and I gave him an involuntary tribute of sympathy. He has a heavy affliction to bear-the death of his gallant son, one of the officers who were slain in the late battle of Ferozeshaw. His whole manner betrays the tokens of subdued but constant grief.
His sermon was peculiarly finished and appropriate, the language was clear and forcible. without that splendor of thought and dazzling vividness of imagery which mark "Salathiel." Yet I could not help noticing that he delighted to dwell on the spiritualities of religion, rather than its outward observances, which he seemed inclined to hurry over as lightly as possible. His mild, gray eye and lofty forehead are more like the benevolent divine than the poet. I thought of Salathiel, and looked at the dignified, sorrowful man before me. The picture of the accursed Judean vanished, and his own solemn lines rang on my ear :
" The mighty grave
Whenever I hear them, or think of them again, I shall see, in memory, Croly's calm, pale countenance.
"The chimes, the chimes of Motherland,
I often thought of Coxe's beautiful ballad, when, after a day spent in Waterloo Place, I have listened, on my way homeward, to the chimes of Mary-le-bone Chapel, sounding sweetly and clearly above all the din of the Strand. There is something in their silvery vibration, which is far more expressive than the ordinary tones of a bell. The ear becomes weary of a continued toll--the sound of some bells seems to have nothing more in it than the ordinary clang of metal-but these simple notes, following one another so melodiously, fall on the ear, stunned by the ceaseless roar of carriages or the mingled cries of the mob, as gently and gratefully as drops of dew. Whether it be morning, and they ring out louder and deeper through the mist, or midnight, when the vast ocean of being beneath them surges less noisily than its wont, they are alike full of melody and poetry.
I have often paused, deep in the night, to hear those clear tones, dropping down from the darkness, thrilling, with their full, tremulous sweetness, the still air of the lighted Strand, and winding away through dark, silent lanes and solitary courts, till the ear of the care-worn watcher is scarcely stirred with their dying vibrations. They seemed like those spirit-voices, which, at such times, speak almost audibly to the heart. How delicious it must be, to those who dwell within the limits of their sound, to wake from some happy dream and hear those chimes blending in . with their midnight fancies, like the musical echo of the promised bliss. I love these eloquent bells, and I think there must be many, living out a life of misery and suffering, to whom their tones come with an almost human consolation. The natures of the very cockneys, who never go without the horizon of their vibrations, is, to my mind, invested with one hue of poetry !
A few days ago, an American friend invited me to accompany him to Greenwich Fair. We took a penny steamer from Hungerford Market to London Bridge, and jumped into the cars, which go every five minutes. Twelve minutes' ride above the chimneys of London and the vegetable-fields of Rotherhithe and Deptford brought us to Greenwich, and we followed the stream of people which was flowing from all parts of the city into the Park.
Here began the merriment. We heard on every side the noise of the "scratchers," or, as the venders of these articles denominated them-"the fun of the fair." By this is meant a little notched wheel, with a piece of wood fastened on it, like a miniature watchman's rattle. The "fun" consists in drawing them down the back of any one you pass, when they make a sound precisely like that of ripping cloth. The women take great delight in this, and as it is only deemed politeness to return the compliment, we soon had enough to do. Nobody seemed to take the diversion amiss, but it was so irresistibly droll to see a large crowd engaged in this singular amusement, that we both burst into hearty laughter.
As we began ascending Greenwich Hill, we were assailed with another kind of game. The ground was covered with smashed oranges, with which the people above and below were stoutly pelting each other. Half a dozen heavy ones whizzed uncomfortably near my head as I went up, and I saw several persons get the full benefit of a shot on their backs and breasts. The young country lads and lasses amused them-selves by running at full speed down the steep side of a hill. This was, however, a feat attended with some risk ; for I saw one luckless girl describe an arc of a circle, of which her feet was the centre and her body the radius. All was noise and nonsense. They ran to and fro under the long, hoary boughs of the venerable oaks that crest the summit, and clattered down the magnificent forest-avenues, whose budding foliage gave them little shelter from the passing April showers.
The view from the top is splendid. The stately Thames curves through the plain below, which loses itself afar off in the mist; Greenwich, with its massive hospital, lies just at one's feet, and in a clear day the domes of London skirt the horizon. The wood of the Park is entirely oak -the majestic, dignified, English oak-which covers, in picturesque clumps, the sides and summits of the two billowy hills. It must be a sweet place in summer, when the dark, massive foliage is heavy on every mossy arm, and the smooth and curving sward shines with thou-sands of field-flowers.
Owing to the showers, the streets were coated with mud, of a consistence as soft and yielding as the most fleecy Persian carpet. Near the gate, boys were holding scores of donkeys, which they offered us at threepence for a ride of two miles. We walked down towards the river, and came at last to a group of tumblers, who with muddy hands and feet were throwing somersets in the open street. I recognized them as old acquaintances of the Rue St. Antoine and the Champs Elysees; but the little boy who cried before, be-cause he did not want to. bend his head and feet into a ring, like a hoop-snake, had learned his part better by this time, so that he went -through it all without whimpering' and came off with only a fiery red face. The exercises of the young gentlemen were of course very graceful and classic, and the effect of their poses' of strength was very much heightened by the muddy foot-marks which they left on each other's orange colored skins.
The avenue of booths was still more diverting. Here under sheets of leaky awning, were exposed for sale rows of gilded gingerbread kings and queens, and I cannot remember how many men and women held me fast by the arms. determined to force me into buying a, pound of them. We paused at the sign : " Signor Urbani's GRAND MAGICAL DISPLAY." The title was attractive, so we paid the penny admission, and walked behind the dark, mysterious curtain. Two bare brick walls, three benches and a little boy appeared to us. A sheet hung before us upon which quivered the shadow of some terrible head. At my friend's command, the boy (also a spectator) put out the light, when the awful and grinning face of a black woman be-came visible. While we were admiring this striking production, thus mysteriously revealed, Sig-nor Urbani came in, and seeing no hope of any more spectators, went behind the curtain and startled our sensitive nerves with six or seven skeleton and devil apparitions, winding up the wonderful entertainment with the same black head. We signified our entire approbation by due applause and then went out to seek further novelties.
The centre of the square was occupied by swings, where some eight or ten boat-loads of persons were flying topsy-turvy into the air, making one giddy to look at them, and constant fearful shrieks arose from the lady swingers, at finding themselves in a horizontal or inverted position, high above the ground. One of the machines was like a great wheel, with four cars attached, which mounted and descended with their motley freight. We got into the boat by way of experiment. The starting motion was pleasant, but very soon it flew with a swiftness and to a height rather alarming. I began to repent having chosen such a mode of amusement, but held on as well as I could, in my uneasy place. Presently we mounted till the long beam of our boat was horizontal; at one instant, I saw three young -ladies below me, with their heads downward, like a shadow in the water the next I was turned heels up, looking at them as a shadow does at its original. I was fast be-coming sea-sick, when, after a few minutes of such giddy soaring, the ropes were slackened and we all got out, looking somewhat pale and feeling nervous, if nothing else.
There were also many great tents, hung with boughs and lighted with innumerable colored lamps, where the people danced their country dances in a choking cloud of dry saw-dust. Conjurors and gymnastic performers were showing off on conspicuous platforms, and a continual sound of drums, cymbals and shrill tram )(As called the attention of the crowd to some " Wonderful Exhibition "-some infant phenomenon, giant, or three-headed pig. A great part of the crowd belonged evidently to the very worst part of society, but the watchfulness of the police prevented any open disorder. We came away early and in a quarter of an hour were in busy London, leaving far behind us the revel and debauch, which was prolonged through the whole night.
London has the advantage of one of the most gloomy atmospheres in the world. During this opening spring weather, no light and scarcely any warmth can penetrate the dull, yellowish-gray mist, which incessantly hangs over the city. Sometimes at noon we have for an hour or two a sickly gleam of sunshine, but it is soon swallowed up by the smoke and drizzling fog. The people carry umbrellas at all times, for the rain seems to drop spontaneously out of the very air, without waiting for the usual preparation of a gathering cloud. Professor Espy's rules would be of little avail here.
A few days ago we had a real fog-a specimen of November weather, as the people said. If November wears such a mantle, London, during that sober month, must furnish a good idea of the gloom of Hades. The streets were wrapped in a veil of dense mist, of a dirty yellow color, as if the air had suddenly grown thick and mouldy. The houses on the opposite sides of the street were invisible, and the gas-lamps, lighted in the shops, burned with a white and ghastly flame. Carriages ran together in the streets, and I was kept constantly on the look-out, lest some one should come suddenly out of the cloud around me, and we should meet with a shock like that of two knights at a tournament. As I stood in the centre of Trafalgar Square, with every object invisible around me, it reminded me, (hoping the comparison will not be accepted in every particular) of Satan resting in the middle of Chaos. The weather sometimes continues thus for whole days together.
April 26.-An hour and a half of land are still allowed us, and then we shall set foot on the back of the oak-ribbed leviathan, which will be our home until a thousand leagues of blue ocean are crossed. I shall hear the old Aldgate clock strike for the last time-I shall take a last walk through the Minories and past the Tower yard, and as we glide down the Thames, St. Pauls, half-hidden in mist and coal-smoke, will probably be my last glimpse of London.