Famous Men And Women Of Fleet Street
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
As we have seen in the preceding chapters, a vast number of notable people have been connected with Fleet Street from very early times some as residents, others in a more fortuitous way. Forming an import-ant portion of the principal highway connecting the City and the West End, Fleet Street has witnessed probably, a greater number of splendid pageants than any street in London, with the exception of the Strand. The long roll of British monarchs has passed along it in gorgeous procession ; civic glory has been witnessed in it, on the innumerable occasions when its apotheosis in the Lord Mayor's Show has caused the thoroughfare to become gay with decorations ; and all sorts of pageants of which those in which Queen Victoria passed to St. Paul's on the occasions of her Jubilees were the crowning glory have enshrined this old, time-worn street in the history of the country.
It has, too, been the scene, often enough, of darker doings. Wat Tyler's insurrection did not leave it untouched, for we are expressly told that the rioters destroyed two forges here, and, doubtless, did much unspecified damage. A few years later, what is euphemistically termed " a great debate"—otherwise, one of those domestic battles in which the period was rife took place here between the servants of Waltham, Bishop of Salisbury, then Lord Treasurer, and the citizens, in 1392, on which the King " sesed the franchise and the libertie of London into hys hand, and the Kyng hadd of London XM. 1. lib' or he wolde be plesyd." 1
Again, in 1441, we read of " a great affray in Flete Strete atweene ye getters of the Innys of Court and the inhabytauntes of the same strete," in which the ringleader appears to have been one Herbottell, " a man of Clyfford's Inne." Seventeen years later, another riot of a similar character took place in Fleet Street, when, according to Holingshead, " the students were driven with archers from the Conduit back to their Inns, and some slain, including the Quene's Attornie."
On this occasion, the King was so wroth with the students that he committed the principali governors of Furnivall's, Clifford's, and Barnard's Inn to prison in the Castle of Hertford, and William Tailor, Alderman of that ward, with mani other, were sent to Wyndesore Castell the 7th of Maie."
But perhaps no scene in the fifteenth century so disgraced Fleet Street as that in which Eleanor Cob-ham, Duchess of Gloucester, who had been accused of witchcraft, figured. The Duchess, luckier than some of her supposed confederates, who suffered death, was obliged to do public penance, and, on Nov. 13, 1441, having been brought from Westminster to the Temple Stairs, she, holding a heavy wax taper in her hand, " went so thoro the Fflet Strete on her feete and hoodeless " to St. Paul's where she offered her taper at the high altar.
In the following century (1522), another noble, but still unluckier victim, came to the Temple Stairs, and was led through Fleet Street to the Tower notably Edward, Duke of Buckingham, into whose mouth Shakespeare has put one of his finest speeches.
Coronation processions have been too numerous to be specified, but I may remind the reader that at that of Anne Bullen (May 31, 1533) the Fleet Street Conduit " was newlie paynted, and all the arms and angels refreshed," that upon it " was made a tower with foure turretts, and in every turrett stood one of the Cardinali vertues with their tokens and properties ; " and that, on this occasion, Temple Bar, also newly painted and repaired, bore its burden of " divers singing children."
Another unfortunate queen was proclaimed in Fleet Street, Lady Jane Grey, and a few days later passed in state to the Tower, which was so soon to be her last resting-place. No doubt, on this occasion as on others the entry of Philip and Mary, that of Queen Elizabeth, the Proclamation of James I., the reception of the King of Denmark, the return of Charles II., and so many more the Conduit bulked largely in the scheme of decoration, and was bedizened with paint and flags, and became, for the nonce, a nest of singing-birds.
Notable funerals have also been witnessed by Fleet Street : that of the Earl of Oxford in 1562 ; that of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, viewed by vast crowds, from Bridewell to Charing Cross, in 1678 ; that of Lord Nelson in 1805 ; and that of the Duke of Wellington in 1852 to mention but these.
Then there were such processions as those of the Scald Miserable Masons, in 1742 ; and the annual " Burning of the Pope," which obtained during the latter years of Charles II.'s reign. This ceremony took place at the King's Head Tavern, near Chancery Lane, and is graphically described by Roger North, who tells how, on one occasion, the Archbishop of York asked Lord Justice North what was to be done to quell the riot with which the proceedings were always accompanied ; and received the laconic reply, " Fear God, and don't fear the people." 1
Fleet Street figures largely, too, in such matters of history as the " Wilkes and Liberty " riots, in 1763, and again in 1769, when the famous ' Battle of Temple Bar " took place ; the Gordon Riots, when the Fleet Prison was destroyed and such havoc played with London generally ; the Hardy " Treason Trials " of 1794, when Hardy, who lived at No. 161 Fleet Street (next door to the place where Carlile had his " Free Thought " headquarters), was brought to trial, and Lord Eldon got mobbed, and, had it not been for his presence of mind, might have been severely maltreated by the crowd.2
A list of such matters might be carried on interminably. Enough has, I think, been set down to confirm what I began by saying as to the important part this historic thoroughfare has borne in the larger annals of the country.
To turn to its more domestic side, we shall find that a number of interesting people have been connected, more directly, with the street.
The names of some very early inhabitants are preserved in the " Grant to erect a Penthouse for the Aqueduct in Fleetstrete," to which I have before referred. As it is interesting to know the appellations of some of those who lived in Fleet Street in 1388, I give them here : John Rote, John Walworth, Robert Bryan, Thomas Dukes, George Cressy, Remund Standulf, John Chamberlyn, Robert Ikford, Richard Middletone, Roger Rabat, Robert Mauncel, John Emmede, Nicholas Simond, Adam Jurdan, Robert Walter, John Attebille, Walter Hoggeslade, Walter Dunmowe, William Balle, Roger Kempstone, Alan Ulryk, and John Derneford.
Among more notable residents in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were the Pastons, whose letters form such valuable documents on the rather vague and shadowy Middle Ages. They had their town house in Fleet Street, as we have seen in the first chapter, a house mentioned occasionally in their correspondence.
But it is in the days of the Tudors that we find Fleet Street becoming the centre, not only of literary activity, but also of fashion. Sir Amias Paulet, whose name is familiar to students of this period, is found writing to the still more famous Walsingham, " from my poor lodging in Fleet Street," in the year 1588 ; and only a few years earlier, the ` thorough ' Earl of Strafford was born in Chancery Lane. Bradford, one of the martyrs under the Marian persecution, was, in 1553, " taken at Mr. Elsing's house in Fleet Street," as recorded by Foxe.
The names of many of the great Elizabethan dramatists enter into the annals of the thoroughfare from the fact of their bearers having been connected with the Temple : such as, for instance, Francis Beaumont, Ford, and Marston, who was once a lecturer at the Middle Temple to which Chaucer had belonged in earlier days.
Of Michael Drayton, the connection is even closer, for, with the help of Aubrey, we are able to locate him as an actual resident in Fleet Street, " at ye large windowe house next the east end of St. Dunstan's church." This house was numbered 186, and existed, so late as 1885 ; although it had naturally been altered and restored. Mr. Hutton, referring to it, adds : " but its next-door neighbour city-wards still showed what was its appearance when Drayton occupied it, and published in 1608 an edition of his Poems ` at the Shop of John Smithwick, St. Dunstan's Church Yard under the Diall.' " As the author of Literary Landmarks of London properly states, St. Dunstan's Churchyard was the Paternoster Row of those days, and was as much frequented by booksellers.
Shakespeare's connection with Fleet Street cannot, by the widest stretch of the imagination, be considered a very close one, but various references in his plays form a link between him and Clement's Inn, York House, the Temple Gardens, and other landmarks ; and when Twelfth Night was produced in Middle Temple Hall in 1601, the dramatist is thought to have probably directed the performance, or at least to have been present during its progress.
His great contemporary, Ben Jonson, on the other hand, was closely associated with Fleet Street and its purlieus. He is said to have passed some years of his childhood in Hartshorne Lane, later known as Northumberland Street, Strand ; he is credibly believed to have "wrought on the garden wall of Lincoln's Inne" as a bricklayer, as recorded by Aubrey ; and he was certainly intimate with the neighbourhood and " the walks of Lincoln's Inn under the Elms," as he calls them in one of his plays ; while he must have superintended numbers of those masques for which he was famous, when they were performed in the Old Hall there.
But his closest connection with Fleet Street was as a resident, for, according to Aubrey, he lived " without Temple Barre at a combe-maker's shop about the Elephant and Castle," which stood on the south side of the street between Temple Bar and Essex Street, and as the presiding deity at the symposia held at the Devil Tavern next to Temple Bar. Here, he tells us himself, he " drank bad wine " ; here, in the Apollo Room, he was Sir Oracle ; and he it was who wrote the rules of the Club in pure and elegant Latin. We can, in imagination, see him leaving his favourite resort on that famous occasion when, having " drunk well and had brave notions," his eyes flashing in a fine frenzy, and his sublime head striking the stars, he went home and penned the great speech addressed to Scylla's ghost in Cataline.
John Taylor, the ` Water Poet,' can claim a connection rather with the river side of Fleet Street than with that portion of the thoroughfare which chiefly concerns us, but two of his contemporaries, George Wither and James Shirley, are more nearly associated with the neighbourhood : for the former is said to have died in the Savoy, and, according to Anthony A Wood, was buried in the chapel there, " between the east door and the south end " ; while the latter was, at one period of his life, a schoolmaster in Whitefriars, and was living in Fleet Street, near the Inner Temple Gate. The Great Fire not only caused the destruction of his residence, but was also, it seems, responsible for his death ; for he was obliged to hurriedly leave his threatened house, and seek shelter in St. Giles in the Fields, where owing, probably, to exposure combined with shock he died only a few hours after the conflagration. Edmund Spenser's gentle presence must have often been seen in Fleet Street when the poet was on one of his not infrequent visits to Essex House ; but the connection of Milton with this part of London is a closer one, for we know that after his return from the Continent, in 1639, he lodged with a tailor Russell by name in St. Bride's Churchyard. The actual position of the house is now rather difficult to trace, but Howitt, who refers to it in his Homes and Haunts of the British Poets, helps us to locate it. Here is what he says about the place and its situation :
" The house, as I learned from an old and most respectable inhabitant of St. Bride's Parish, was on the left hand as you proceed towards Fleet Street through the avenue. It was a very small tenement, very old, and was burned down on the 24th of November, 1824, at which time it was occupied by a hairdresser. It was in proof of its age without party walls, and much decayed. The back part of the Punch office now occupies its site."
The sad domestic episode of Milton's life dates from the period of his residence here, according to Aubrey, who states that when his first wife, Mary Powell, " came to live with her husband at Mr. Russell's in St. Bride's Churchyard, she found it very solitary ; no company came to her, oftentimes heard his nephews beaten and cry ; this life was irksome to her, and so she went to her parents."
Not far from St. Bride's Churchyard is Chancery Lane, and close to the south-west corner of that thoroughfare lived Izaak Walton. Sir John Hawkins, when engaged on his Life of Walton, took some pains to identify the residence of the Gentle Angler, and he sums up his investigations in the following words : " Izaak Walton dwelt on the north side of Fleet Street, in a house two doors west of the end of Chancery Lane, and abutting on a messuage known by the sign of the Harrow . . . now the old timber house at the south-west corner of Chancery Lane, till within these few years (1760), was known by that sign ; it is therefore beyond doubt that Walton lived at the very next door, and in this house he is, in the deed above referred to, which bears date 1624, said to have followed the trade of a Linen-Draper. It further appears by that deed, that the house was in the joint occupation of Izaak Walton and John Mason, hosier, from whence we may conclude that half a shop was sufficient for the business of Walton."
At a later date Walton removed to a house at the Holborn end of Chancery Lane, supposed to have been next to Crown Court and to have stood on the site of No. 120.1 In either house he was close to Shoe Lane, and in the Harp Alley leading from this street he used to buy his fishing-tackle: " If you will buy choice hooks," says he, in his Angler, " I will one day walk with you to Charles Kerbye's, in Harp Alley, Shoe Lane, who is the most exact hook-maker that the nation affords."
When the Compleat Angler was issued, it was but appropriate that Walton should, although then living in Clerkenwell, select a publisher in Fleet Street, close to his old home ; and accordingly, in 1653, appeared his famous work : " sold by Richard Marriot in St. Dunstan's Church Yard, Fleet Street." One shilling and sixpence could then have bought a book that has now become worth far more than its weight in gold.
While yet Walton was a young man selling cloth in Fleet Street, and occasionally slipping away to ply his rod in the Lea, there was born, close by his shop, a poet whose love for the country was no less marked than his own. This was Cowley, whose father, a grocer, resided in Fleet Street, not far from Chancery Lane, in a house which is known to have " abutted on Serjeants' Inn." Here his famous son, Abraham, was born in the year 1618. But Cowley, though a Cockney, was never a Londoner, and this accident of his birthplace is the only really important connection he had with the City.
But other poets and dramatists of the period are more closely associated with this part of the town. For instance, Richard Lovelace, whose immortal " To Althea from Prison " was written in the Gate-house at Westminster in 1648, is said to have died, ten years later, in a miserable lodging in Gunpowder Alley, off Shoe Lane, his body being laid to rest in old St. Bride's Church.
Shadwell, too, an almost forgotten Laureate, was a member of the Middle Temple, and resided for a time in Salisbury Court, now Salisbury Square, before he flitted to Chelsea where he lies buried in an unknown grave.
Death, as in the case of Lovelace, connects Nat Lee, the clever playwright but indifferent actor, with the neighbourhood of Fleet Street, for, according to Oldys the antiquary, it was when " returning one night from the Bear and Harrow in Butcher Row, through Clare Market, to his lodgings in Duke Street, that, overladen with wine, Lee fell down on the ground as some say according to others on a bulk, and was killed or stifled in the snow. He was buried in the parish church of St. Clement's Danes."
But a greater than Lovelace, or Shadwell, or Lee lived in this neighbourhood of many memories, for during the years 1673 to 1682 John Dryden is recorded by Peter Cunningham as residing in, or close by, Salisbury Court, probably about the same time as his friend Shadwell had a house in the court. No trace of his actual residence remains, nor is it probable that we shall ever know exactly where 'Glorious John ' had his Fleet Street habitat. Neither is it very satisfactorily proved that the house in Fetter Lane (No. 16), traditionally assigned to him, was ever, in reality, occupied by the poet.
This house, adjoining Fleur-de-Lys Court, was demolished in 1887, but a print is given of it in Wilkinson's Londina Illustrata, and it bore on its front an old tablet on which appeared this inscription :
Born 1631—Died 1700.
Glorious John !
It is not known by whom this was set up. Its presence would seem to suggest that Dryden may perhaps have lodged temporarily here, for there is no record, either in the pages of his biography or in the Rate Books, of his ever having owned the house.
A contemporary writer, Thomas Otway, who made a solitary appearance as an actor at the Dorset Garden Theatre in Salisbury Court in 1672, is said though I cannot vouch for the fact to have passed some years of his not very reputable life in a house facing that assigned to Dryden in Fetter Lane ; and this fact, together with a story connected with it, has been regarded as some proof of Dryden's residence here.
A story is a story, so I will give the one referred to. One day Otway called, about breakfast-time, on Dryden, in Fetter Lane, but was told he was breakfasting with Lord Pembroke. The next morning he called again, and this time was informed that his brother-poet was taking his matutinal meal with the Duke of Buckingham. " The Devil he is," exclaimed Otway, and taking up a piece of chalk, he wrote over his rival's door :
" Here lives Dryden, a poet and a wit."
Dryden, on his return, saw the line, and under it wrote:
" This was written by Otway, opposit."
He then told his servant to desire Otway's company at breakfast for the following morning. When the latter arrived, he immediately saw the additional line added to his, and, full of envy at his friend's better fortune and noble friends, took it in high dudgeon, and turning on his heel, told Dryden he could keep his wit and his breakfast to himself. This is so point-less a story that, had it not been handed down and repeated, one would hesitate to give it credence. Why Otway, smarting under envy and disappointment, should have written the original line, or why Dryden, who with a little thought might have made a good rhyme, should have perpetrated such an astonishingly bad one, are among the mysteries
Before leaving the seventeenth century and its poets (Rowe, by the bye, was a student at the Middle Temple in 1689),1 we must not forget that Richard Baxter was a frequent preacher and lecturer in the old church of St. Dunstan's, and also in Fetter Lane, at a meeting-house near Neville's Court.
In the Domestic State Papers, and other early records, there are notices of various people living in Fleet Street and its neighbourhood who cannot be termed illustrious in any way, but who should be noted here. For instance, in 1549, we find a confirmation, by the King, of a lease of certain lands and tenements in Chancery Lane abutting on the Rolls Estate, from Richard Sampson, Bishop of Chichester, to the Guild and Fraternity of St. Mary, and St. Dunstan's, Fleet Street. In 1580, one Thomas Crofte is found writing to George Mydelmore, his brother-in-law, " at the signe of the Bishope in Fleete Streete," and ten years earlier one Francis Alford is mentioned as residing in Salisbury Court.
About this period Fleet Street seems to have been much affected by papists, one of whom was a certain Dr. Johnson, for in 1587 we read of information being given of priests and recusants residing in Vaudrey's lodging at the 'Mermaid ' ; while a letter from the celebrated Robert Parsons to Father Swinborn was directed to be left at the house of James Taylor, a Roman Catholic, " against the Conduit in Fleet Street," in 1592. Many papists resided, too, at this period in Chancery Lane, and among other residents there are mentioned, in 1592-94, Sir Dennis Rowghane and Dr. Good.
It was in Fleet Street, "over a haberdasher's," that the mother of Felton, the murderer of the Duke of Buckingham, was living in 1628. It would appear that Felton had been seen at the Windmill Tavern in Shoe Lane a few weeks before he called on his parent and asked for money ; not obtaining any, however, he intimated his determination to go to Portsmouth to get his arrears of pay. That his real object had then been decided upon is, to some extent, proved by the fact that before departing " he went to the church which stood at that time by the Conduit in Fleet Street, and left his name to be prayed for at next Sunday's service as a man disordered and discontented in mind."
At a rather later date (1637), we find Thomas Peirce, a tailor, living in White Hart Court, Fleet Street, and John Power residing in White Lion Court in the same thoroughfare. Coming to the times of Charles II., there is an entry in the Domestic State Papers relative to a " Warrant to Francis Rogers, to search the house of Carey, goldsmith ` at the Cock, Fleet Street,' for certain tapestry, etc., belonging to persons attainted for the murder of the late king, and to make an inventory of same."
Other entries have a different interest. Thus, the following gives us an insight into the relative rents of premises during Cromwell's day : Thos. Dunn, registrar for receiving appearances in the City of London, writes to the Lord Protector and Council, in 1656, and states that he " cannot find a suitable house for the purpose, in Fleet Street, under £60 ; another in the same thoroughfare with but two or three rooms is let, he says, at £52, and one in Dorset Court is offered at £70, which he thinks too high a rent.
Yet another entry tells us that the murderers of Sir Richard Sandford are, in 1675, ordered to be executed on two gibbets in Fleet Street " over against Whitefrairs, where they committed the crime."
At about this period we find another notable person, whose name has survived the furious envy of his foes, 'Praise-God' Barebone, carrying on business as a leather-seller in Fleet Street. In the Domestic State Papers he is called 'Prayse Barbon,' but there is no mistaking his identity, and we know, from other sources, that he was the owner of a house having for sign the ` Lock and Key,' in the parish of St. Dunstan's, which was let to a family named Speight. It was burned in the Great Fire, and was rebuilt by Barbon ' whose son, by the bye, was that ` Barbon the great builder ' who was responsible for so many new erections here and in other parts of London.'
A still more notable name is that of General Monk, who, in 1659, is recorded, in a letter addressed to Lady Rachel Vaughan (afterwards Russell), as having " sent directions for his old lodging to be taken up for him in Fleet Street, near the Conduit " ; while Sir Symonds D'Ewes, who wrote that valuable parliamentary diary, also had lodgings near Inner Temple Gate, as recorded in his journals.
Then there was Bulstrode Whitelocke, known for his annals of the reigns in which he lived and his services as an Ambassador to Sweden and elsewhere, who was born in the house of his great-uncle Sir George Croke, in Fleet Street, and baptized at St. Dunstan's on Aug. 19, 1605 ; Lady Theodosia Tresham, the wife of Sir William Tresham, who is recorded as living in Fleet Street in 1689 ; and Sir John Baker, Bart., who was residing next the Horn Tavern, in the same thorough-fare, in the following year ; while Catherine Philips, 'the matchless Orinda,' to whom Jeremy Taylor addressed his Discourse on Friendship, died in Fleet Street on June 22, 1664. Nor must I forget to mention that Thomas Benière, a sculptor of much industry if not of a marked amount of genius, lived in a house near Fleet Ditch, and died there in 1693.
The references to Fleet Street during the seventeenth century which are to be found in the pages of Pepys and Evelyn need not be set down here, as they are chiefly connected (especially in the case of the former) with the various taverns in the thoroughfare, which are dealt with in another chapter ; although when, under date of July 7, 1668, Pepys remarks that " we are fain to go round by Newgate, because of Fleet Bridge being under building," he indirectly informs us of one of the many changes then taking place in this part of London.
In Luttrell's Diary, however, such entries as appertain to Fleet Street are often of particular interest. Several have already been given, in other chapters, but here are a few more, short and succinct, as becomes the legal hand that penned them :-
1682, March. " The 2nd, in the morning early, a fire broke out in the back part of the Queen's Head Tavern, by Templebar, but was mastered in a little time, so that it consumed only the back part."
1684, Dec. 3, " was a waterman killed in Fleet-street, near Serjeants' Inn."
" Mr. Bramston hath lately killed one Piercy Wiseman esq. in Fetter Lane ; and the next two or three nights was one or two killed each night."
Dec. 17, " one John Hutchins, who killed the waterman in FIeetstreet, was hang'd on a gibbet erected near the place."
Coming to the eighteenth century, we are overwhelmed almost by the numbers of illustrious men whose presence once graced Fleet Street. The proximity in Shire Lane, close by, of the Trumpet Tavern, where the Kit-Kat Club once held its meetings, would be alone sufficient to account for such names as those of Swift and Steele, and Garth and Addison, among so many others. Addison, to begin with him, was also intimately associated with the Devil Tavern and the Temple, where his gentle, dignified presence was so often to be seen ; and what name can be more closely connected with his than that of his immortal creation, Sir Roger de Coverley ? Sir Roger knew all these haunts well enough which reminds me of a passage in Pendennis (Thackeray, too, you remember, once had chambers in 10 Crown Office Row), coming in here not inaptly :
" Sir Roger de Coverley walking in the Temple Gardens and discussing 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 Dr. Goldsmith's in Brick Court, or Harry Fielding, with inked ruffles and a wet towel round his head, dashing off articles for the Covent Garden Journal, while the printer's boy is asleep in the passage."
Where was Fielding doing this, you ask ? In the chambers he had, close by, in Pump Court, what time he was a student at the Middle Temple, and before Tom Jones had created a new form in fiction, or Amelia had kept even unsympathetic old Johnson out of his bed, with fascination, in his own despite. And Fielding's great rival, Richardson, who was thought to be a finer writer ; to be one of the immortals and who reads Clarissa or Grandison today ? Richardson is another of those great figures with which Fleet Street is associated. For Richardson lived, and had his printig-house, and wrote his epistolary novels, in Salisbury Court, now become Salisbury Square, and lying in the very heart of journalism and printing-presses, and where we have already met with him in another chapter, before he went to live his last years and to die at Parson's Green. We don't hear of his frequenting taverns or coffee-houses. His de-light was to sit, surrounded by a fair auditory, reading those lachrymose passages that so delighted his sentimental worshippers. How he would have rejoiced in seeing Mrs. Barbauld kiss the inkhorn with the contents of which he had caused so many hearts to beat and so many tears to flow.
No one is so closely identified with that part of London with which we are here concerned as Dr. Johnson, and as such something must be said, at large, about his connection with it :--
In 1748, Johnson came to 17 Gough Square, more closely identified with his personality and writings than any of his homes. And here was, indeed, a veritable literary workshop. The garret where the inception of the Rambler took place, and whence, after years of painful toil and dogged persistence, the great Dictionary presently emerged triumphant, may still be seen. Boswell tells us that, on one occasion, Johnson pro-posed to Dr. Burney that he should go up with him to his attic. Arrived there, the historian of music found five or six Greek folios, a deal writing-desk, and a chair and a half. The guest being provided with the whole seat, the ponderous host balanced himself on the other, which had but three legs and one arm. At a later date Carlyle made an expedition to Gough Square, and " found with difficulty the house in which the Dictionary was composed," and where, by the bye, Mrs. Johnson had died in 1752, a circumstance glanced at in the famous letter to Lord Chesterfield, in which the writer says that the praise the Vainqueur du Monde had bestowed on the Dictionary was useless, for " he was alone, and could not impart it."
In March 1759 Johnson flitted again, this time to Staple Inn, as he writes to Miss Lucy Porter, adding : " I am going to publish a little story-book, which I will send you when it is out."
The " little story-book " was nothing less than Rasselas, which was written in the evenings of a fort-night, to pay the funeral expenses of Johnson's mother. The sojourn in Staple Inn was not a long one, and Gray's Inn and chambers in Inner Temple Lane were its immediate successors. The latter did not prove inspiring, however, and Murphy even speaks of Johnson living here in total idleness ; the point of which remark is accentuated by the fact that on one occasion, a friend having called to write a letter in Johnson's room, found him unprovided with pen, ink, or paper.
Actual want, however, soon caused Johnson to over-come his natural inclination to idleness, and in 1763 we find Boswell paying a visit to Inner Temple Lane (to-day superseded by Johnson's Buildings), and finding a number of good books, " but very dusty and in great confusion," and the floor " strewed with manuscript leaves in Johnson's own handwriting," which the worthy Boswell tells us he " beheld with a degree of veneration, supposing they might perhaps contain portions of the Rambler or of Rasselas."
It was here that Johnson was also visited by Mme de Boufflers in company with Beauclerk, and here occurred the incident at the close of the visit when Johnson, remembering that he had allowed his fair acquaintance to depart without escorting her to her carriage, rushed down the stairs. Overtaking her and Beauclerk before they had gained the Temple Gate, he brushed past the latter, and seizing the lady's hand, conducted her to her coach.
Johnson apparently lived for about two years in the Temple, and in 1765 he removed to 7 Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, where he remained for eleven years. Here he brought out a new edition of the Dictionary, and published his Shakespeare and his Journey to the Hebrides. One wonders whether the name of the court attracted him, for it was not, as is so frequently supposed, named after him, although, when in the North, he playfully described himself as " Johnson of that Ilk."
On leaving Johnson's Court, Johnson took up his residence at 8 Bolt Court, and here he remained during the rest of his life. On April 3, 1776, Boswell paid his first visit to the Doctor's new abode, and found him " very busy putting his books in order ; and as they were generally very old ones, clouds of dust were flying around him. He had on a pair of large gloves such as hedgers use," and his appearance put his future biographer in mind of his uncle's description of him : " A robust genius, born to grapple with whole libraries."
Nor are Johnson's friends hardly less associated with Fleet Street than the great man around whom they clustered. Boswell went wherever his hero went, and he even removed from Downing Street to chambers in what are now Farrar's Buildings, Temple, to be near him, although his other London residences were in the west : in Half-Moon Street, in Old Bond Street, and lastly, in great Portland Street.
Burke, when a member of the Middle Temple, resided at the ` Pope's Head,' over the shop of Jacob Robinson, a bookseller and publisher just inside the Temple Gateway, and now known as 16 Fleet Street, next the famous ` Rainbow.'
Another great literary figure of the period that of Goldsmith is intimately associated with the Temple and with those haunts where Johnson and his circle forgathered. From the time when Goldsmith was proof-reader to Richardson, in Salisbury Square, to the day when he died in Brick Court (which remains substantially as it was in his day), his figure was a familiar one in Fleet Street ; he might often have been met with in the ' Mitre ' or the 'Cheshire Cheese,' or at the card club held at the Devil Tavern, and the debating club at the 'Robin Hood.' In 1757, letters addressed to him were to be left at the Temple Exchange Coffee-House, near Temple Bar ; and three years later he took up his residence at 6 Wine Office Court, a place for ever memorable as having seen the inception and completion of the Vicar of Wakefield. Here Johnson first visited him, and here he himself glanced through the MS of the famous book, and, as he himself told Boswell, " saw its merit," and, having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. Goldsmith — happy-go-lucky, improvident Goldsmith had then spent his last guinea, and was being dunned for his rent. Four years later the poet had removed to 2 Garden Court, and later went to Gray's Inn ; but when he received the 2500 for his Good-Natured Man, he returned to the Temple, and Brick Court was his last earthly abode.
Near the Temple Church is the plain stone on which is inscribed, " Here lies Oliver Goldsmith," and which is known to most of us ; but it is a question whether it marks the actual spot where his remains were laid. It is, however, in any case, approximately near the place. While Johnson was living in Johnson's Court, and Goldsmith was in Brick Court, there arrived in London a youth with genius written on his unhappy brow, but whom Fate had reserved for a tragic end Thomas Chatterton. A garret in Shoreditch was his first lodging in London ; a hardly better room in Brooke Street, Holborn, was his second and last ; and he enters into these pages in virtue of the fact that his body was cast into an unknown pauper's grave in the workhouse burial-ground in Shoe Lane. This cemetery was eventually done away with when Farringdon Market was formed, and, as Howitt phrases it, " the tombs and memorials of the deceased disappeared to make way for the shambles and cabbage-stalks of the living."
The gentle figure of Cowper must often have been seen in Fleet Street, what time the poet had lodgings in the Middle Temple, and, later, chambers in the Inner Temple, where he attempted to commit suicide on being forbidden by his family to marry his cousin. Like Addison before him, he was used, in these days, to frequent Dick's (then called ` Richard's ') Coffee-House.
Coming to a later day, we meet with Lamb and his circle in these hallowed haunts. Elia himself is almost as closely identified with this part of London as Johnson was : he was born in the Temple (Crown Office Row) in 1775 ; from 1800 to 1809 he lived at 16 Mitre Court Buildings ; and, with a slight break, when he went to Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, he was back in the Temple, at 4 Inner Temple Lane, where he meant, he said, to " live and die." Fate, however, ordained otherwise, and in 1817 he left his beloved purlieus, never to return as a resident. He has told us so much of himself during these days in his essay on the " Old Benchers of the Temple," and elsewhere in his works, and we know, besides, so much from his letters, that there is no necessity to recapitulate here his love for Fleet Street and its neighbourhood.
But I cannot resist giving two extracts from his Essays, not only because they are bits of Lamb, but also because they afford us glimpses of two other interesting personalities the fine actor, Elliston ; and the little remembered one, Dodd. The first is from " Ellistoniana " ; the second from " On Some of the Old Actors "
" It was my fortune to encounter him [Elliston] near St. Dunstan's Church (which, with its punctual giants, is now no more than dust and a shadow), on the morning of his election to that high office. Grasping my hand with a look of significance, he only uttered, ` Have you heard the news ? '—then, with another look following up the blow, he subjoined, ` I am the future Manager of Drury Lane Theatre.' Breathless as he saw me, he stayed not for congratulation or reply, but mutely stalked away, leaving me to chew upon his new-blown dignities at leisure. In fact, nothing could be said to it. Expressive silence alone could muse his praise.
" This was in his great style."
" Dodd was a man of reading, and left at his death a choice collection of old English literature. I should judge him to have been a man of wit. I know one instance of an impromptu which no length of study could have bettered. My merry friend, Jem White, had seen him one evening in Aguecheek, and, recognising Dodd the next day in Fleet Street, was irresistibly impelled to take off his hat and salute him as the identical knight of the preceding evening with a
Save you, Sir Andrew.' Dodd, not at all disconcerted at this unusual address from a stranger, with a courteous, half-rebuking wave of the hand, put him off with an Away, fool.' "
Crowded as Fleet Street is in memory—as crowded, indeed, as it has always been in fact one great figure
towers above the heterogeneous throng ; one personality is, as I have before said, more closely connected with it than any other that of Dr. Johnson. And as this is the case, I will close this chapter in his company and that of his faithful henchman :--
" It was a delightful day : as we walked to St. Clement's Church, I again remarked, that Fleet Street was the most cheerful scene in the world. 'Fleet Street,' said I, 'is in my mind more delightful than Temple.'
" Johnson. ` Aye, Sir . . . ' "
Annals Of Fleet Street:
Streets South Of Fleet Street
Streets North Of Fleet Street
Temple Bar And Some Bankers
Inns Of Court And Chancery Clifford's Inn
Churches Of Fleet Street
Taverns And Coffee-houses Of Fleet Street
Famous Men And Women Of Fleet Street
Fleet Street And The Press