Old and New London: Volume 4. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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ST. JAMES'S STREET AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD.
Original Name of St. James's Street—The Royal Mercatorium—Anecdote of George Selwyn—"Jack Lee" and George, Prince of Wales—Beau Brummell's Quarrel with the Prince—"Hook and Eye"—Manners of the Court Region a Century and a-half ago—Colonel Blood's Attack on the Duke of Ormonde—Dangers of the Streets in the Reign of Charles II.—The Wig Riots—Noted Residents in St. James's Street—Gillray, the Caricaturist—Pero's Bagnio—"Political Betty"—Sams' Library—Louis Napoleon's Residence at Fenton's Hotel—Arlington Street—Park Place—Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts—"Mother Needham"—Lepel, Lady Hervey—Lord Guildford—Sir Francis Burdett—Robert Smith, Lord Carington—A Jovial Supper Party—Sir Richard Philipps—Samuel Rogers, the Poet—The Public Schools Club—Spencer House—Cleveland Row—Bridgewater House—The Green Park—Peace Illuminations of 1749 and 1814—Constitution Hill.
Having in the preceding chapter given an account of the various clubs in St. James's Street, we shall now proceed to notice what may be called the historical memories of the place, then pass rapidly through the various thoroughfares on its western side, and extend our perambulation into the Green Park.
Two centuries ago St. James's Street was called "the long street." Old Strype describes it as "beginning at the palace of St. James's, and running up to the road against Albemarle Buildings; the best houses, at the upper end, having a terracewalk before them;" a little more than half a century later, the parish of St. James's was described as including "all the houses and grounds comprehended in a place heretofore called St. James's Fields, and the confines thereof." St. James's Street dates from the middle of the seventeenth century; and we read in "Hunter's History of London" that "the road from Petty France to St. James's Palace, that which afterwards became St. James's Street," was first paved in the year after the Restoration. The old buildings have nearly all been swept away to make room for the more stately club-houses and hotels of modern times; and of these the western side of the street in the present day is chiefly composed. The east side, with the exception of "Boodle's" and "White's" Clubs, consists mainly of elegant shops, one of which, at the beginning of the present century, was fitted up as a bazaar, and rejoiced in the name of the "Royal Mercatorium." The busy tenants of this establishment were summoned before the magistrate at the Queen Square Police Office, for "hawking" their goods without a licence; but the summons was dismissed, it being decided that the occupants of the bazaars did not come under the Hawkers' Act.
For upwards of a century this noble thoroughfare—for such it really is—has maintained its character as an aristocratic lounge, and a place where only the privileged classes have a right to be seen. To what extent this privilege was carried in former times may be judged from the following anecdote:—George Selwyn happening to be at Bath when it was nearly empty, was induced, from the necessity of having somebody to associate with, to make the acquaintance of an elderly twaddling gentleman whom he invariably met in the rooms. In the height of the following season Selwyn encountered his old associate here, in St. James's Street, and endeavoured to pass him unnoticed, but in vain. "What, sir," asked the cuttee, holding out his hand, "don't you recollect me? We became acquainted at Bath." "I know we did," returned Selwyn, declining the proferred hand, "and when I next go to Bath I shall be happy to know you again—but not till then."
It was in walking up this street one day, and
meeting "Jack Lee" arm-in-arm with George,
Prince of Wales, that Beau Brummell sarcastically
asked him, "Jack, who's your fat friend?" pretending not to recognise his Royal Highness, with whom
he had quarrelled at Carlton House a few days
previously. Tommy Moore, in his "Twopenny
Post Bag," immortalises the quarrel in a parody on
a letter from the Prince to the Duke of York, in
which his Royal Highness is made to say—
"I indulge in no hatred, and wish there may come ill
To no mortal, except, now I think on't, Beau Brummell,
Who declared t'other day, in a superfine passion,
He'd cut me and bring the old king into fashion."
Such attacks as these must have turned the warm friend, though a prince of the blood, into a bitter enemy; and it must be said in "Beau" Brummell's behalf, that it was at Carlton House that he was led to indulge in those gambling tastes and in that dangerous familiarity with royalty which in the end proved his ruin.
Theodore Hook figured once, and once only, in the celebrated "H. B. Sketches" of the elder Doyle. He is represented walking down St. James's Street, arm-in-arm with the then Speaker, Mr. Manners Sutton (afterwards Viscount Canterbury), who—otherwise a fine-looking man—had a notable squint; hence the title of the engraving—"Hook and Eye!"
"St. James's, in Westminster," observes the witty author of the "Town Spy," "has a very large share of the nobility and gentry; yet a person of indifferent rank may find a vacant seat in the church on Sunday. The 'quality,' who fly about in their sumptuous equipages, imagine themselves to be the admiration of the vulgar sort, but, on the contrary, they are only the objects of their ridicule, they being too well acquainted with their most private affairs." No man, as we all know, is a hero in the eyes of his valet; and no doubt the morals of the age in which the "Town Spy" was written (1755), and especially in the neighbourhood of St. James's, were such as often would serve to illustrate the assertion.
Thackeray, in one of his "Lectures on English Humorists," describes in minute detail the manners of the Court region a century and a half ago, when a lady of fashion would joke at table with her footmen, and noble lords call out to the waiters, before ladies, "Hang expense, bring us a ha'porth of cheese." "Such," he adds, "were the ladies of St. James's; such were the frequenters of White's Chocolate-house, when Swift used to visit it, and Steele described it as the centre of pleasure, gallantry, and entertainment."
It is often said that London is more like a country made up of several states than an individual city; and it is in keeping with this idea that Addison, in the Spectator (No. 340), speaks of the metropolis as composed of different races, instead of being made up, like a town, of one cognate family. "When I consider this great city," he writes, "in its several quarters, or divisions, I look upon it as an aggregate of various nations, distinguished from each other by their respective customs, manners, and interests. The courts of two countries do not differ so much from one another as the Court and the City of London in their peculiar ways of life and conversation. In short, the inhabitants of St. James's, notwithstanding they live under the same laws, and speak the same language, are a distinct people from those of Cheapside, by several climates and degrees, in their ways of thinking and conversing together." If such was the essayist's opinion in the reign of Queen Anne or George I., what, we may fairly ask, would he have said stronger on the subject, had he lived on into the reign of Victoria?
It was in this street that, on a cold December morning in 1670, Colonel Blood—whose name is notorious for his attempt to rob the Tower of the regalia of England—set upon the great Duke of Ormonde, aided by four ruffians, and attempted to assassinate him on his way to Clarendon House, which stood facing the top of the street, upon the site of what is now Albemarle Street. The duke was dragged out of his carriage by Blood and his associates, tied to one of them on horseback, and carried along Piccadilly towards Tyburn, where it was their intention to have hung him, in revenge, it is said, for a punishment inflicted upon some companions of theirs in Ireland during the duke's administration of that country. The alarm being given at Clarendon House, the servants followed, and recovered his grace from a struggle in the mud with the man to whom he was tied, and who, on regaining his horse, fired a pistol at the duke, and escaped. In the "Historian's Guide" (1688), it is stated that there were "six ruffians mounted and armed," and that the duke's six footmen, who usually walked beside his carriage, were absent when the attack was made—probably having dropped in at a sideway hostelry, in quest of "something to keep out the cold."
As to the dangers of the streets at the Westend at the period in which the above incident
occurred, we are not left in the dark by Macaulay.
He writes:—"When the evening closed in, the
difficulty and danger of walking about London
became serious indeed. The garret windows were
opened and pails were emptied, with little regard
to those who were passing below. Falls, bruises,
and broken bones were of constant occurrence;
for, till the last year of the reign of Charles II.,
most of the streets were left in profound darkness. Thieves and robbers plied their trade
with impunity; yet they were hardly so terrible
to peaceful citizens as another class of ruffians.
It was a favourite amusement of dissolute young
gentlemen to swagger by night about the town,
breaking windows, upsetting sedans, beating quiet
men, and offering rude caresses to pretty women.
Several dynasties of these tyrants had, since the
Restoration, domineered over the streets. The
'Muns' and 'Tityre Tus' had given place to the
'Hectors,' and the 'Hectors' had been recently
succeeded by the 'Scourers.' At a later period
arose the 'Nicker,' the 'Hawcubite,' and the yet
more dreaded name of 'Mohawk,' as we learn
from Oldham's 'Imitation of the Third Satire of
Juvenal' (1682), and Shadwell's 'Scourers' (1690).
Many other authorities will readily occur to all who
are acquainted with the popular literature of that
and the succeeding generation. It may be suspected
that some of the 'Tityre Tus,' like good Cavaliers,
broke Milton's windows shortly after the Restoration. I am confident that he was thinking of
those pests of London when he dictated the noble
'And in luxurious cities, where the noise
Of riot ascends above their loftiest towers,
And injury and outrage, and when night
Darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons
Of Belial, flown with insolence and wine.'"
"There were," writes Macaulay, "at the end of Charles II.'s reign, houses near St. James's Park, where fops congregated, their heads and shoulders covered with black or flaxen wigs, not less ample than those which are now worn by the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker of the House of Commons." He adds, "that the wigs and most of the dress of these fops came from Paris, and that they spoke a peculiar and affected dialect, called a 'Lord' a 'Lard.'"
In the year 1764, owing to changes in the fashion, people gave over the use of that very artificial appendage, the wig, and wore their own hair, when they had any. In consequence of this, the wig-makers, who were very numerous in London, were suddenly thrown out of work, and reduced to great distress. For some time, we are told, both town and country rang with their calamities, and their complaints that men should wear their own hair instead of perukes; and at last it struck them that some legislative enactment ought to be at once procured in order to oblige gentlefolks to wear wigs, for the benefit of the suffering wig-trade. Accordingly they drew up a petition for relief, which, on the 11th of February, 1765, they carried to St. James's to represent to his Majesty George the Third. As they went processionally through the town, it was observed that most of these wigmakers, who wanted to force other people to wear them, wore no wigs themselves; and this striking the London mob as something monstrously unfair and inconsistent, they seized the petitioners, and cut off all their hair par force. Horace Walpole, who alludes to this ludicious petition, in his Letters to the Earl of Hertford, asks, with his usual wit, "Should one wonder if carpenters were to remonstrate, that since the peace their trade decays, and that there is no demand for wooden legs?"
St. James's Street in its time has had many distinguished residents. Waller, the poet, as Mr. John Timbs tells us, lived on the west side from 1660 until 1687, when he died at Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire. Pope lodged "next door to ye Golden Ball, on ye second terras." Gibbon, the historian, died in January, 1794, at No. 76, then Elmsley's, the bookseller's. Horace Walpole says: "I was told a droll story of Gibbon the other day. One of those booksellers in Paternoster Row, who publish things in numbers, went to Gibbon's lodgings in St. James's Street, sent up his name, and was admitted. 'Sir,' said he, 'I am now publishing a History of England done by several good hands. I understand you have a knack of these things, and should be glad to give you every reasonable encouragement.' As soon as Gibbon had recovered the use of his legs and tongue, which were petrified with surprise, he ran to the bell, and desired his servant to show this encourager of learning down stairs."
At No. 29, next door to Boodle's Club, lived the caricaturist Gillray, who here committed suicide, in 1815, by throwing himself from the window on to the pavement below. The shop was well known as that of Miss Humphrey, the caricature printseller, sister of the conchologist, and the vendor of his works. Gillray was first the pupil of Mr. Ashby, the celebrated writing engraver; but afterwards studied under Bartolozzi. The author of the "Book for a Rainy Day" says that Gillray engraved several portraits and other subjects in a steady mechanical way, but soon followed the genuine bent of his genius, though, it must be acknowledged, it was too often at the expense of honour and even common honesty. "He would, by his publications, either divulge family secrets which ought to have been ever at rest, or expect favours for the plates which he destroyed. This talent, by which he made many worthy persons so uneasy, was inimitable; and his works, though time may destroy every point of their sting, will remain specimens of a rare power, both for character and composition." Among numerous instances, he suffered himself to bear evidence against Samuel Ireland, the publisher of the pretended Shakespeare papers. Ireland had given away an etching, a portrait of himself. This print Gillray copied, and offered a few impressions publicly for sale in Miss Humphrey's shop-window, in December, 1797. Gillray, it may be remarked, lies buried in the churchyard of St. James's, Piccadilly.
At the commencement of the last century, Peyrault's, or Pero's, "Bagnio," in this street, was high in fashion. It occupied the site of what is now Fenton's Hotel, on the west side of the street; this was a bagnio of old standing, as appears by the title of a catalogue of the "valuable collection of pictures, the property of the late Mr. Bartrum Aumailkey, alias Pero, who kept the bagnio previous to 1714." Next door to the above establishment was a tavern bearing the sign of the "Bunch of Grapes," where, as we learn from the newspapers of 1711, "was sold extraordinary good cask Florence wine, at 6s. per gallon."
The next house of notoriety is now No. 62, some time occupied by Lauriere, the jeweller. It was formerly held by an old lady, well known under the appellation of "Political Betty," and was famous in Horace Walpole's time.
At the corner, opposite the Palace, the shop
which is now occupied by a firm of booksellers was,
until recently, well known in the fashionable and
aristocratic circles as "Sams' Library." Mr. W.
H. Sams, who died in 1872, had here for some
time carried on his father's business as librarian
and publisher. In former times its windows were
often crowded with gazers at the caricatures of wellknown political and other celebrities, before the days
when Sig. Pellegrini made Vanity Fair famous.
"There, where you stop to scan the last 'H. B.',
Swift paused and muttered, 'Shall I have that see?'"
wrote Lord Lytton in the "New Timon;" and, in truth, upon the site of Sams' shop the great satirist, coming out of St. James's Palace, might often have stood and quieted his fervid indignation at the baseness of the Court of Queen Anne. "Lodge's Peerage," the first edition of which appeared in the year 1827, was for some time published at Sams' Library, and called "Sams' Peerage."
In 1838–9, Louis Napoleon, then in exile, between the "affair" of Boulogne, and the "affair" of Strasburg, took up his quarters for a time at Fenton's Hotel, leading the life of a young man of fashion. From Fenton's he removed with a suite of seventeen friends and servants into Waterloo Place, and thence to Carlton Terrace and Carlton Gardens, where we have already mentioned him.
It was in 1843–44, whilst residing in chambers at 88, St. James's Street, close to where now stands the Conservative Club, that Thackeray began and finished "The Luck of Barry Lyndon," which many consider the most original of his earlier writings.
Branching off from the west side of St. James's Street are Bennett Street, Park Place, St. James's Place, and Little St. James's Street. The highest and northernmost of these turnings leads into Arlington Street, a thoroughfare running at right angles with Piccadilly. This street has always been inhabited by statesmen and public men. The first house on the west side was for many years the house of the Duke of Beaufort, and then of the Duke of Hamilton, before it passed into the hands of Sir Ivor Bertie Guest. It has on the ground floor a magnificently carved ceiling, painted with the heraldic insignia of the house of Somerset.
In this street was for many years the town residence of the Dukes of Rutland. It was lent by the then Duke, in 1826, to the Duke of York, who died there quite suddenly in his arm-chair, on one of the first days of the following year. His body was removed to St. James's Palace, where it lay in state, and was buried in St. George's Chapel, at Windsor, on the 20th of January, 1827.
In 1708 the Duke of Richmond, Lord Cholmondeley, Lord Kingston, and Guildford Brooke were living in this street. In 1745 the first Earl of Orford, the great Sir Robert Walpole, died here. Here the old Marchioness of Salisbury, one of the leaders of "society" in the reign of George IV., used to hold her Sunday evening receptions, of which we find many notices in "Raikes's Journal," and other books of cotemporary anecdote. They were frequently attended by royalty, ambassadors, &c. The Marchioness was burnt to death at Hatfield House, in December, 1834.
The writer of "A New Review of the Public Buildings, &c.," in the reign of George II., is enthusiastic in his praises of the side of Arlington Street which faces the Green Park, as "one of the most beautiful situations in Europe for health, convenience, and beauty, and combining together the advantages of town and country." The only fault that he can find with the mansions is the "want of uniformity."
In Park Place, in 1835, Vernon House, now the residence of Lord Redesdale, was occupied by Lord William Bentinck, some time Governor-General of India. Close by it are the offices and head-quarters of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, which was founded in 1701. This institution was formerly in Pall Mall, as we have mentioned. Its aim is to establish and support bishops and clergy of the Church of England abroad, and chiefly in our own colonies. There also is the office of the Colonial Bishoprics Fund, which was established in 1861 for founding and endowing additional Colonial bishoprics.
As a set-off to the good work carried on by the society above mentioned, we may state that in the early part of the last century the noted "Mother Needham" was "convicted of keeping a lewd and disorderly house in Park Place; she was fined one shilling, to stand twice in the pillory, and find sureties for her good behaviour for three years."
The memory of this woman is perpetuated by a couple of lines in the "Dunciad;" and a note on the passage says she was "a matron of great fame, and very religious in her way; whose constant prayer it was, that she might get enough by her profession to leave it off in time, and make her peace with God. This, however, was not granted to her, as she died from the effects of her exposure in the pillory."
St. James's Place dates from about the year 1694. At the present time it forms the headquarters of batchelor members of Parliament, almost every other house being let out in apartments; it has been in past time also the abode of several individuals whose names have become as familiar as "household words." Here, in 1712, Addison had lodgings; and a few years later we find John Wilkes living here in "very elegant lodgings." Here, too, resided Parnell, the poet, Mr. Secretary Craggs, Bishop Kennett, the antiquary, and Mrs. Robinson (Perdita), the actress, already mentioned by us in speaking of Carlton House.
At the western end of St. James's Place, overlooking the Green Park, the learned Lepel, Lady Hervey, in 1748, built a house, which was subsequently occupied by Lord Hastings, and ultimately divided into two. Lady Hervey speaks of its windows as commanding a view towards Chelsea and the country, as also of the Duke of Devonshire's house, when the dust in Piccadilly permitted it. Within its walls Lord Chesterfield and other wits and learned persons used to meet constantly.
Lord John Hervey, who in 1720 married the
"fair Lepel," one of the maids of honour to the
Princess of Wales, was the eldest son of the first
Earl of Bristol, and was early attached to the court
of the Prince and Princess at Richmond. His
marriage was signalised by Pulteney and Lord
Chesterfield by a ballad in honour of both bride
and bridegroom, in which the noble poets declared
that never had been seen—
"So perfect a beau and a belle,
As when Hervey the handsome was wedded
To the beautiful Molly Lepel."
At No. 25 lived Lord Guildford, who, as John Timbs tells us in his "Curiosities of London," "had his library lined with snake-wood from Ceylon, of which island he was at one time governor." The next tenant was Sir Francis Burdett, so many years the popular member for Westminster, who resided here from about 1820 to his death in 1844.
The life of Sir Francis Burdett affords a remarkable illustration of the political vicissitudes a popular man may encounter. Every reader of the political events of the present century will know how he was idolised by the people during the reign of George III.; and the story of his standing a siege of horse and foot for two days in his house in London, before the warrant could be executed, rather than surrender to the warrant officer who came to convey him to the Tower of London on a charge of libelling the House of Commons, stands out in strong contrast to the staunch Conservatism which marked the later years of his life.
Mr. Raikes, in his "Journal," tells the following anecdote of Sir Francis Burdett:—"Early in life he passed three years in France, at the outbreak of the Revolution, when he attended the meetings of the National Assembly and the Political Clubs, which, during that period of public agitation, were so numerous. When he returned home in 1793, dazzled by the political doctrines he had imbibed, he became a notorious reformer in Parliament, and married the second daughter of Thomas Coutts, the wealthy banker. He was a votary of Horne Tooke; and through the Radical interest of Westminster was elected member for that borough, without a shilling of expense to himself, in 1807, as the man of the people. He was imprisoned in the Tower in 1810, by order of the House of Commons, for addressing a printed letter to his constituents on the commitment of Mr. Gale Jones. Having seen the favourite object of Parliamentary Reform carried by the Whigs, and probably the inefficiency of his former wild theories to confer real happiness on his country, he gradually moderated his views on national politics, and settled down into a good Conservative, which brought upon him the abuse and obloquy of his own party, who then gave him the name of 'Old Glory.' It was a singular coincidence, that he died ten days after his wife, Lady Burdett, to whom he was most tenderly attached. Sir Francis was a great fox-hunter, and a type of the 'fine old English gentleman,' of which he preserved to the last the characteristic dress—leatherbreeches and top-boots. When young, he was for a long time the notorious lover of Lady Oxford—cum multis aliis. He had a very large fortune, which goes to his eldest son Robert. His daughter, who inherited the Coutts's fortune, is the richest heiress in all England. He had once a dispute with Mr. Paul about the Westminster election after the death of Mr. Fox, which terminated in a duel, in which both parties were severely wounded; and there being no medical persons present, and but one carriage on the spot, it became necessary to remove both the combatants to town in the same vehicle."
The death of Sir Francis was as pathetic as his parliamentary life had been famous. His wife was a daughter of Mr. Coutts, the celebrated banker, and for the long period of fifty years they lived happily together; and when death took away Lady Burdett, in January, 1844, her husband, then in his seventy-fourth year, became inconsolable, and felt that he had nothing left to live for. Wrapping himself up in his sorrow, he refused all consolation and all nourishment. In spite of the most earnest entreaties he would taste no food, and at last nature gave way, and he died on the 23rd of the same month; and the husband and wife were buried at the same hour, on the same day, in the same vault, in Ramsbury Church, Wiltshire. The above-mentioned daughter of Sir Francis Burdett, Angela Georgina, assumed in 1837 the additional surname and arms of Coutts, under the will of her grandfather's widow, Harriet (afterwards Duchess of St. Albans). Miss Burdett Coutts was raised to the peerage in 1871, by having conferred upon her the title of a Baroness, in recognition of her largehearted charity and general philanthropy.
In 1790 one of the fine houses on the west side of St. James's Place was occupied by Mr. Robert Smith, a London banker, and M.P. for Nottingham, who, most reluctantly on the part of George III., was created a peer as Lord Carington. This was the first instance in which a peerage was ever bestowed on the moneyed interest as distinct from the ownership of broad acres; and it was believed, not only by Pitt's enemies but by his friends, that the bestowal of the coronet in this case was the discharge of some pecuniary obligations of the Premier, who forced the King to sign the patent.
Readers of Mr. Harrison Ainsworth's historical romance of "St. James's" will scarcely need to be reminded of two chapters in the early part of that work, in which he gives us a picture of a jovial supper party at St. John's residence in this street, at which Wycherley, Congreve, Tickell, Mrs. Bracegirdle, Mrs. Oldfield, Addison, Vanbrugh, Steele, Rowe, Tom D'Urfey, Dr. Garth, Kneller, Harley, Mr. Markam, Mrs. Manley, and the other wits, poets, and painters of that truly Augustan era, were present, when Mrs. Oldfield and Mrs. Bracegirdle settled a quarrel as to which should sing first, by pistols—not, however, after the way of a duel, but by trying to snuff a candle by a shot at twelve paces. We should like to have been present at the breakup of the party at early dawn, and to have seen the ladies' chairs arrive, and take their departure; Mrs. Bracegirdle escorted home by Congreve, Mrs. Oldfield by Maynwaring, and Mrs. Centlivre by Prior, who persisted in calling her "Chloe" all the way; whilst Steele and Wycherley, walking along by Mrs. Manley's chair, and being rather excited by St. John's port wine, assaulted the watch, and for their pains were arrested by the "Charlies," and lodged in the St. James's Round House.
Sir N. W. Wraxall, in his gossiping "Memoirs of his own Time," tells the following amusing story about one of the residents of St. James's Place towards the close of the last century:—"Sir Richard Phillipps, a Welsh baronet of ancient descent, when member for Pembrokeshire, in the year 1776, having preferred a request to his Majesty, through the first Minister, Lord North, for permission to make a carriage-road up to the front of his house, which looked into St. James's Park, met with a refusal. The king, apprehensive that if he acceded to Sir Richard's desire, it would form a precedent for many similar applications, put a negative on it; but Lord North, in delivering the answer, softened it by adding, that if he wished to be created an Irish peer, no difficulty would be experienced. This honour being thus tendered him, he accepted it, and was forthwith made a baron of that kingdom by the title of Lord Milford. His intimate friend and mine, the late Sir John Stepney, related this fact to me not long after it took place."
At No. 22, a house built by James Wyatt, R.A., lived from 1808 until his death in December, 1855, Samuel Rogers, the poet. Here Sheridan, Lord Byron, Sir James Mackintosh, Thomas Moore, Macaulay, Sharp, and almost all the other literary celebrities of the first half of the present century, were often guests. The house, which is comparatively small, and is distinguished by its bow windows, fronting the Green Park, contained a choice collection of pictures, Etruscan vases, sculpture, antique bronzes, and literary curiosities, and a variety of lesser objects of art—all distinguished for rare excellence; some of the pictures were bequeathed to the nation, and the remainder of the collection was ultimately disposed of. Among the most valued treasures in the house there was to be seen framed and hung on one of the walls of his library, the original agreement by which Milton assigned to the publisher, Symons, his poem of "Paradise Lost," for the sum of five pounds. This historical document bears the undoubted autograph signature of the poet.
Samuel Rogers was a banker as well as a poet; he knew how to spend his wealth, and his name will live as at once a poet and as a patron of literature. Born in the year 1763, he lived to the great age of ninety-two. His first publication was his "Ode to Superstition, and other Poems," which appeared in 1787; five years later he published his "Pleasures of Memory," the work by which his fame as a poet was established, and by which his name came to be most widely and permanently known. In 1798 he gave to the world his "Epistle to a Friend, and other Poems;" in 1814, appeared his "Vision of Columbus and Jacqueline;" in 1819, "Human Life;" and in the following year the first part of his "Italy," on the printing and illustrating of which he is said to have spent not less than £10,000.
The Rev. A. C. Coxe, of the United States, in his "Impressions of England," writes:—"Among the authors of England, I had desired to see especially Mr. Samuel Rogers, who is now the last survivor of a brilliant literary epoch, and whose long familiarity with the historical personages of a past generation would of itself be enough to make him a man of note, and a patriarch in the republic of letters. Though now above ninety years of age, he still renders his elegant habitation an attractive resort, and I was indebted to him for attentions which were the more valuable, as he was at that time suffering from an accident, and hence peculiarly entitled to deny himself entirely to strangers. His house, in St. James's Street, has been often described, and its beautiful opening on the Green Park is familiar from engravings. Here every Englishman of literary note, during the last half century, has been at some time a guest; and if its walls could but Boswellise the wit which they have heard around the table of its hospitable master, no collection of Memorabilia with which the world is acquainted could at all be compared with it. Here I met the aged poet at breakfast; Sir Charles and Lady Lyell completing the party. He talked of the past as one to whom the present was less a reality, and it seemed strange to hear him speak of Mrs. Piozzi, as if he had been one of the old circle at Thrale's. When a boy, he rang Dr. Johnson's bell, in Bolt Court, in a fit of ambition to see the literary colossus of the time, but his heart failed him at the sticking point, and he ran away before the door was opened. Possibly the old sage himself responded to the call, and as he retired in a fit of indignation, moralising on the growing impertinence of the age, how little did he imagine that the interruption was a signal tribute to his genius, from one who, in the middle of the nineteenth century, should be himself an object of veneration as the Nestor of Literature!"
But it must be owned, with every wish to speak well of those who are gone, that Samuel Rogers was not a man gifted with such qualities as to make real friends. Acquaintances and hangers-on he numbered by scores; but of friends he had very few. He was full of spleen and sarcasm, though the sun of fortune had smiled on him through life, and accordingly, if he had been a poor man, he would have had many enemies. The following passage from Mr. William Jerdan's "Men I have Known" will serve to illustrate our meaning, though an admission to Mr. Rogers's breakfasts was one of the greatest privileges accorded to men of literary tastes and abilities, who wished to get on in London:—
"Rogers was reputed a wit, and did say some good things; but many of the best were said by others, and fathered upon him (as the use is), especially when there was any bitterness in the joke, which was his characteristic. His going to Holland House by the Hammersmith stage-coach (in the days when cabs and omnibuses were unknown), and asking the loitering driver what he called it, is not one of his worst: being answered 'The Regulator,' he observed that it was a very proper name, as all the rest go by it. Luttrell and Rogers were intimate friends and rival wits, and disliked each other accordingly. I have used the word 'friend,' but it did not appear that the nonogenarian (whatever he might have enjoyed half a century before) had any friends. I never saw about him any but acquaintances or toadies. Had he outlived them? No; he was not of a nature to have friends. He was born with the silver spoon in his mouth, and had never needed a friend in his long, easy journey through life. The posthumous laudation lavished upon him by his political cronies was purely of the de mortuis nil nisi bonum kind. He never received that coin when alive; for, if the truth be told, his liberality and generosity were small specks which could not bear blazon, and he was radically ill-tempered. Now, nobody can love a cantankerous person, even though placed in such fortunate circumstances as not to be always offensive. His whole career was too sunny. There were neither clouds nor showers to nourish the sensitive plants which adorn humanity—nothing but showy sunflowers. No lovely dew-dipped blossoms; no sweet buddings of refreshing scene; no soft green tufts sending up grateful incense, as when varying seasons produce their beneficial influence, and the breezes and the rains (ay, the storms) from heaven serve but to root and expand the spirit's growth.
"Few men who have had nothing but an even tenor of their way, are duly touched with feeling for the distresses of their fellow-creatures, which they have never experienced. In the absence of any higher motive to benevolence, there was not even a trace of bonhomie about Rogers. Sarcasm and satire were his social weapons. Kindness and geniality do not crop out in any account of him that I have seen; and this negative describes the individual, of whom I did not care to know much. The constant little bickering competitions between him and Luttrell were very entertaining to some minds. They met once, and did not squabble. It was in the Crystal Palace, in Hyde Park, into which they were both wheeled in chairs, when no longer able to walk!"
On one occasion the venerable poet was visited by Wordsworth and Haydon the painter. They had been to Paddington together, and had afterwards walked across the Park to Rogers's house. He had a party to lunch, so Haydon went into the pictures, and studied Rembrandt, Reynolds, Veronese, Raffaelle, and Tintoretto. Wordsworth remarked, "Haydon is down-stairs." "Ah," said Rogers, "he is better employed than chattering nonsense up-stairs." As Wordsworth and Haydon crossed the Park, the latter remarked, "Scott, Wilkie, Keats, Hazlitt, Beaumont, Jackson, Charles Lamb are all gone—we only are left." He said, "How old are you?" "Fifty-six," replied the painter; "how old are you?" "Seventy-three," said Wordsworth, "in my seventy-third year; I was born in 1770." "And I in 1786." "You have many years before you." "I trust I have; and you, too, I hope. Let us cut out Titian, who was ninety-nine." "Was he ninety-nine?" said Wordsworth. "Yes," said his friend, "and his death was a moral; for as he lay dying of the plague, he was plundered, and could not help himself."
"Eminent as he was, both by position and
genius," says his biographer, "Rogers's opinion
was frequently sought by authors and by artists.
He was shy of praise—shy of censure. In an age
when almost every poet of any name was a reviewer, Rogers was not a reviewer. When in the
presence of the painter of any picture, he had constant recourse to the safe and general criticism of
Sir Joshua: 'Pretty, very pretty,' were the words
that conveyed satisfaction to the eager ears of
many a clever artist." The critic who annoyed
Mr. Rogers in the Quarterly Review was never
more in the wrong than when he asserted that his
author was a hasty writer. A man of letters and
of fortune from his birth, whose literary life extended over sixty years, cannot be called a hasty
writer when the produce of his life can be placed
with ease in an ordinary pocket volume, for such
is the shape his works assume in the latest edition.
The fact is, that his were hard-bound brains, and
not a line he ever wrote was produced at a single
sitting. This was well exemplified in a favourite
saying of Sydney Smith: "When Rogers produces
a couplet he goes to bed, the knocker is tied, and
straw is laid down, and the caudle is made, and
the answer to inquiries is, that Mr. Rogers is as
well as can be expected." How many smart sayings have been assigned to Sheridan and Selwyn, to
Jekyll and Rose, to Walpole and others of Walpole's contemporaries, which in truth they never
uttered! Many were, and still are, assigned to
Mr. Rogers with which he had nothing whatever
to do. In the early days of the John Bull newspaper, "Sam Rogers" had fathered on him many
a smart saying, and many a clever and many a
stupid jest. Once, when a certain M.P. wrote
a review of his poems, and said he wrote very
well for a banker, Rogers wrote, in return, the
"They say he has no heart, and I deny it:
He has a heart, and—gets his speeches by it."
The principal front of the house once tenanted by Samuel Rogers overlooks the Green Park, where it forms a conspicuous object by the side of Spencer House. "Within that house," writes Mr. Miller in 1852, "every distinguished literary man of the last century has been a guest. Here Scott, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge and Campbell have many a time discoursed with the venerable poet. What a rich volume would that be, were it possible to write it, that contained all the good sayings that have been uttered beneath that roof! Here I first sat as a guest, roaring with laughter at the wit of Sydney Smith; here also I have listened 'with bated breath' to the music murmured by the lips of Tommy Moore. Within those walls I first saw that true poetess and much-injured lady, Caroline Norton, and from the host himself in my early career as an author received that kindness and encouragement without which I might have 'fallen on the way.' A description of this celebrated house, of all it contains, and of all the guests it has received, would require the hand of another Horace Walpole to illustrate it. The name of Samuel Rogers," he adds, "alone would save the Green Park from oblivion, and give it a popularity which, but for him, it would never have possessed."
About the year 1863 was established, at No. 17 in St. James's Place—previously the residence of Lord Lyttelton—the Public Schools Club; which, however, had but a transient existence. Its name was subsequently changed to the Phœnix, but the club does not appear to have been more flourishing under its new name, and in a short time it ceased altogether, and the premises were converted into a private hotel.
The mansion of Earl Spencer, which stands at the south-west angle, with one front facing the Green Park, is by some considered one of the finest designs of Inigo Jones; by others it is said to have been built by Vardy, a scholar of Kent, and architect of the Horse Guards. It consists of an admixture of the Grecian style of architecture, and is highly, though not profusely, ornamented. The principal ornament of the interior is the library, an elegant room, containing one of the finest collections of books in the kingdom. This noble and even palatial edifice was built for John, first Lord Spencer, who died in 1783. The front towards the Park, which is of Portland stone, with attached columns, is surmounted by a pediment adorned with statues and vases, very tastefully disposed.
Retracing our steps into St. James's Street, we
now descend towards the Palace gates and Cleveland Row. How different now is the scene to be
witnessed here from what it was before the introduction of coaches or even of sedan-chairs. On
the happiness of those days, Gay thus descants in
"Thus was of old Britannia's city bless'd
Ere pride and luxury her sons possess'd;
Coaches and chariots yet unfashion'd lay,
Nor late-invented chairs perplex'd the way:
Then the proud lady tripp'd along the town,
And tucked up petticoats, secur'd her gown;
Her rosy cheek with distant visits glow'd,
And exercise unartful charms bestowed;
But since in braided gold her foot is bound,
And a long trailing manteau sweeps the ground,
Her shoe disdains the street; the lazy fair
With narrow step affects a limping air."
At the time of which Gay speaks, of course it was but a rare thing for a country dame to be seen in London. Lord Clarendon tells us that his mother, though she was the daughter of a peer, and though her husband had been a member of Parliament, was never in London in her life, "the wisdom and frugality of that time being such that few gentlemen made journeys to London, or any other expensive journeys, but upon important business, and their wives never."
A very different state of things is this from that which meets our eyes in the reign of Victoria, when every nobleman and country gentleman who has a wife and family brings them up yearly to London, for the whole, or at least for a part, of the "season." Young ladies a century ago, as Mr. Cradock observes in his amusing "Library Memoirs," were "not so deeply read as at present;" and "if, when married, they went once a year up to London to see the fashions and attend the theatres, it was thought sufficient. They neither wished to be presented at court, nor to retain a box at the opera-house."
Mr. F. Locker in the following lines gives us an
imaginary picture of St. James's Street and Place
in those "good old times:"—
"At dusk, when I am strolling there,
Dim forms will rise around me;
Lepel flits by me in her chair,
And Congreve's airs astound me.
"And once Nell Gwynne, a frail young sprite,
Looked kindly when I met her;
I shook my head, perhaps—but quite
Forgot to quite forget her."
It has been said that Campbell's "Last Man" owed its composition to a chance conversation in St. James's Street. With reference to this "moot point," Cyrus Redding writes in his "Recollections:"—"I had a singular dispute with Campbell, who, if he once adopted an idea, was very difficult to convince of being in error. He had written a letter to the editor of the Edinburgh Review, in consequence of the reviewer having stated that his poem of the 'Last Man' had been suggested by Byron's 'Darkness.' He stated that in a conversation with Byron, in St. James's Street, he had mentioned the subject of the extinction of the creation and of the human species to Byron, as a fit subject for a poem. I happened to know that Byron and Shelley were once standing together looking at the splendid view of the Alps across the Leman, and Shelley remarked—'What a thing it would be if all were involved in darkness at this moment—the sun and stars to go out. How terrible the idea!' Such a thought was likely to arise in the minds of more persons than one. Barry Cornwall had told Campbell that some friend of his thought of writing a poem on that subject. The date of the conversation of Shelley and Byron I cannot state exactly, but I know it was years before the 'Last Man' of Campbell appeared. I told the poet this, and contended that the idea was not new."
Extending towards the Green Park, from the south-west corner of St. James's Street, is Cleveland Row. Here Lord Stowell resided when known as Sir William Scott, the honoured M.P. for the University of Oxford. Theodore Hook lived here from 1827 till he removed to Fulham, in 1831. His residence was handsome, and extravagantly too large for his purpose. He was admitted to member of divers clubs; shone the first attraction of their house-dinners; and in such as allowed of play he might commonly be seen in the course of his protracted evening. Presently he began to receive invitations to great houses in the country, and, for week after week, often travelled from one to another such scene, to all outward appearance in the style of an idler of high condition. In a word, he had soon entangled himself with habits and connections which implied much curtailment of the time for labour at the desk, and a course of expenditure more than sufficient to swallow all the profits of what remained from his editorial salary and literary gains. We shall have more to say of him when we come to Fulham.
But the spot we are upon has earlier associations. In the spring of the year 1668 Lady Castlemaine, who had just before made up a quarrel with the King, became possessed, by royal gift, of Berkshire House, to the north-west of the Palace Gate, which had been the town residence of the first two Earls of Berkshire, and subsequently occupied by Lord Clarendon. Adjoining the house was a large walled-in Dutch garden, with a summer-house in the north-western corner, in the rear. At the time of which we write it was really a country house, standing quite isolated in its own grounds. The site of the property is now bounded on the south by Cleveland Row and Cleveland Square; on the east by St. James's Street: on the north and west its limits were defined by Park Place and the edge of the Green Park. The house is shown in Faithorne's map of London and Westminster in 1658. The furnishing of the mansion in a style suited to the caprice of the haughty mistress must have been a severe trial for the purse-strings of even a king, for we are told that Berkshire House was most lavishly and sumptuously adorned and decorated.
The dining-room of one of the houses in Cleveland Row, occupied in the reigns of George I. and George II. by Lord Townshend, witnessed the memorable and not very dignified quarrel between its owner, then Secretary of State, and the Premier, Sir Robert Walpole. The two combatants are said by Sir N. Wraxall to have seized each other by the throat—a scene which Gay portrayed in the Beggar's Opera, under the characters of "Peachum" and "Lockitt."
At the western end of Cleveland Row stands Bridgewater House, the town residence of the Earl of Ellesmere. Erected in 1847–50, from the designs of the late Sir Charles Barry, the mansion occupies the site of what was formerly Berkeley House, which Charles II. presented to the Duchess of Cleveland. Jarvis, the portrait-painter, died in the old house in 1739. Afterwards, when Berkeley House was named Cleveland Court, it was occupied by Mrs. Selwyn, mother of George Selwyn. It is said of George Selwyn, who died here in 1791, aged seventy-two, that "he lived for society, and continued in it until he looked like the waxwork figure of a corpse."
The plan of Bridgewater House approaches a
square, the south front being about 140 feet in
length, and the west 120 feet; and there are two
small courts within the mass to aid in lighting the
various apartments. The ground-plan itself comprises a perfect residence—drawing-room, diningroom, ladies' rooms, chamber, dressing-rooms, &c.
The first floor is, with a small exception, appropriated to state-rooms, dining-room, drawing-room,
the splendid picture-gallery, &c. The gallery occupies the whole of the north side of the house, and
is carried out a few feet beyond the east wall. The
building, in both interior and exterior decoration,
is worthy of the splendid collection of works of
art which are here brought together. The main
portion of this collection, so well known as the
"Bridgewater Gallery," was made by the Duke of
Bridgewater, who, dying in 1803, left his pictures,
valued at £150,000, to his nephew, the first Duke
of Sutherland (then Marquis of Stafford), with remainder to the marquis's second son, Francis, afterwards Earl of Ellesmere. This gallery of paintings
is in many respects the most valuable in this
country; in no gallery is the school of Carracci
so well represented. One of the gems of Lord
Ellesmere's gallery is the "Chandos" portrait of
Shakespeare, which is believed to have belonged
once to Sir William Davenport, and then to
Betterton, the actor, and while in the possession
of the latter was copied by Sir Godfrey Kneller
for Dryden, who considered it an original likeness, and who has thus celebrated the copy:—
"Shakespeare, thy gift I place before my sight:
With awe I ask his blessing ere I write,
With reverence look on his majestic face,
Proud to be less—but of his godlike race."
The portrait was bought by the first Lord Ellesmere, at the Stowe sale, for 355 guineas.
The Green Park, which we now enter, is separated from St. James's along part of its southern side by the Mall, and covers a large triangular piece of ground, extending westwards as far as Hyde Park Corner, the line of communication from the end of the Mall being by Constitution Hill. It was formerly called Little or Upper St. James's Park, and was reduced in extent in 1767, by George III., in order to add to the gardens of Buckingham House. Old maps of London show us that the spot of ground situated between the wall of St. James's Palace, and "the way to Reading," as Piccadilly was formerly called, was before the Restoration merely a piece of waste ground—in fact, a meadow. It is represented in those maps as planted with a few willow-trees, and intersected with ditches, among which must have been "the drie ditch-bankes about Pikadilla," in which old Gerarde, the author of "The Herbalist" (1596), used to find the small buglosse or ox-tongue. In October, 1660, as stated in Rugge's "Diurnal," icehouses were built in Upper St. James's Park, "as the mode is in some parts of France and Italy, and other hot countries, for to cool wines and other drinks for the summer season." Old plans show that these ice-houses were situated in the middle of what is now called the Green Park, and here they remained till the beginning of the present century. At the western extremity, close to the road leading into Hyde Park, Charles II. formed a deer-harbour.
We read that when, in 1642, it was resolved by the Parliament to fortify the suburbs of the metropolis, "a small redoubt and battery on Constitution Hill" were among the defences ordered to be erected.
Dr. King, in his "Anecdotes of his Own Time," tells an amusing story about the "witty monarch" and his saturnine brother James, which we may as well tell in this place:—"King Charles II., after taking two or three turns one morning in the Park (as was his usual custom), attended only by the Duke of Leeds and my Lord Cromarty, walked up Constitution Hill, and from thence into Hyde Park. But just as he was crossing the road, the Duke of York's coach was nearly arrived there. The duke had been hunting that morning on Hounslow Heath, and was returning in his coach, escorted by a party of the guards, who, as soon as they saw the king, suddenly halted, and consequently stopped the coach. The duke, being acquainted with the occasion of the halt, immediately got out of his coach, and, after saluting the king, said he was greatly surprised to find his Majesty in that place with such a small attendance, and that he thought his Majesty exposed himself to some danger. 'No danger whatever, James,' said Charles, 'for I am sure that no man in England would take my life to make you king.'"
Like most other lonely places a little distance out of London, it soon became a favourite spot for the gentlemanly diversion of duelling. On Saturday night, January 11, 1696, Sir Henry Colt having been challenged by "Beau" Fielding, these two gentlemen here fought a duel. The spot chosen for this little passage of arms was at the back of Cleveland Court, which, as above stated, stood on the site of what is now Bridgewater House. This place was chosen, it is said, because the "Beau," like the knights of old, wished to fight under the beautiful eyes of his mistress and future wife, the notorious Duchess of Cleveland. It was stated at the time that Fielding, whose courage was none of the brightest, ran Sir Henry through the body before he had time to draw his sword; but the baronet disarmed him, notwithstanding this wound, and so the fight ended.
From the "Foreigner's Guide to London," published in 1729, we learn that early in the last
century Constitution Hill had become as much
frequented for the purpose of fighting duels as
the favourite little spot at the back of Montague
House. The year after this was written, there
occurred another duel in this park, which occasioned a great noise. The combatants were William
Pulteney (afterwards Earl of Bath) and John, Lord
Hervey—the "Sporus" of Pope—
"——that thing of silk,
Sporus, that mere white curd of asses' milk."
The latter, it appears, had written several defences of Sir Robert Walpole, in answer to attacks on him in the Craftsman. To one of these Pulteney published an answer, entitling it "A Proper Reply to a late Scurrilous Libel." The "Reply," it must be owned, was grossly personal; Hervey therefore challenged his rival, and they fought with swords in St. James's Park. The duel took place on Monday, January 25, 1730, between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, behind Arlington Street, Mr. Fox and Sir John Rushout acting as seconds. The "affair of honour," however, turned out to be a bloodless one; no serious bodily harm ensued to either combatant, and Lord Hervey was left to the vengeance of Pope's satire. The germ of Pope's "Sporus" will be found in these party pasquinades out of which the duel arose.
"Queen Caroline, who made so many useful improvements in Hyde Park," says Mr. Larwood, in his "History of the London Parks," "also extended her patronage to the Green Park. In February, 1730, the Board of Works received orders to prepare a private walk in Upper St. James's Park, for the Queen and the royal family to divert themselves in the spring. This walk extended along the row of mansions at the eastern extremity of the Park; but that plan never came to anything farther than the erection of a sort of pavilion, called the 'Queen's Library.' Indeed, her Majesty's death was caused by her partiality for this spot. On the 9th of November, 1737, she walked to the 'Library' and breakfasted there. On that occasion she caught such a severe cold that she had to retire to her bed immediately on her return to the palace: ten days after, she was a corpse." All traces, and in fact all memory, of this "Library" have long since passed away.
In 1749, on the publication of the Peace of Aix-laChapelle, the centre of the Green Park was selected for an exhibition of fireworks, which in grandeur could not have been surpassed in the last century. A huge and substantial building was constructed, running from north to south, with a solid centre and wings; if we may judge from a rare print of the time, it must have been upwards of 400 feet in length: it contained pavilions for the Engineers, ten "arcades for planting the cannon," a grand musical gallery in the centre, surmounted by the arms of the Duke of Montague, at whose cost, in all probability, it was put up. Over the musicgallery was an allegorical figure of Peace attended by Neptune and Mars, and above, a grand bassorelievo, representing the King in the act of giving peace to Britannia. This was illuminated in the evening, and on a pole at the top of all was an illumination representing the sun, which burnt nearly all the night long. The print shows Buckingham House surrounded with a long square wall, extending westwards to Chelsea College. The ground is all open up to Hyde Park Corner, where St. George's Hospital and "Lord Chesterfield's new house" figure as almost the only buildings; a carriage and pair, with outriders, is making its way up an open road marked as "Constitution Hill" towards the spot where now stands Apsley House.
Thursday, the 27th of April, was the grand day appointed for the fireworks. All the entrances into the Green Park were opened, and a breach of fifty feet was made into the Park wall on the Piccadilly side in order to give admittance to the vast concourse of spectators. A gallery was erected for the Privy Council, the Peers, the House of Commons; and the rest of the places were given to the Lord Mayor. The King, who had in the fore-part of the day reviewed the three regiments of Footguards from the garden wall of St. James's, witnessed the fireworks from a pavilion in the Park which had been erected for his reception. The Prince and Princess of Wales, who were on bad terms with the King, kept aloof, and saw the display from the house of the Earl of Middlesex, in Arlington Street. The performance began with a grand military overture, composed by Handel, in which "one hundred cannon, fired singly with the music," formed a distinctive feature. Shortly after the commencement of the fireworks, the temple accidentally took fire, and part of it was consumed.
During the peace fêtes of 1814, the Green Park was again chosen for the scene of a grand pyrotechnical display. Near Constitution Hill a building was erected from the design of Sir William Congreve (of rocket celebrity), which, with all its palings, and the cordon of sentries round it, covered one-third of the Green Park. This building received the name of the Temple of Concord. The materials of this structure, and of the other erections set up on that occasion, were sold afterwards by auction, and fetched only about £200.
Coming down to more recent times, we may state here that on Constitution Hill, near Buckingham Palace, three diabolical attempts have been made to shoot Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. In June, 1840, a lunatic, named Edward Oxford, deliberately fired twice at Her Majesty as she was riding past in her carriage, in company with Prince Albert. Oxford was tried at the Central Criminal Court, when a verdict was returned of "Guilty, but insane," and the prisoner was accordingly removed to be "confined during Her Majesty's pleasure." The second attempt on the life of the Queen was made by Francis, another lunatic, in May, 1842; and the third by an idiot, named Hamilton, in 1849.
On the 29th of June, 1850, at the upper end of Constitution Hill, Sir Robert Peel was thrown from his horse, and very severely injured. He died at his house, in Whitehall Gardens, about three days afterwards.
The rest of the history of the Green Park is soon told. In 1829 the Chelsea Waterworks Company constructed an immense reservoir in the north-east corner of the park, opposite Stratton Street; it was capable of containing 1,500,000 gallons. This reservoir was removed about 1855, and the entrance close by was at the same time considerably widened. "Amidst all the improvements of late years," writes Walker in "The Original," in 1835, "it is much to be lamented that the Green Park has been so much neglected, seeing that it is most conspicuously situated, and, notwithstanding its inferior size, is by much the most advantageously disposed as to ground. There was some years ago a talk of its being terraced in part, and wholly laid out in a highly ornamental style; which, by way of variety, and with reference to its situation, seems a judicious plan. I would that his Majesty would give orders to that effect; and then, as its present name would become inappropriate, it might be called after its royal patron. It is to be hoped that, whenever the opportunity occurs, the Ranger's house will not be allowed to stand in the way of the very great improvement which its removal would cause both to the park and to Piccadilly. I do not believe that anything would add so much to the ornament of London as the embellishment of the Green Park to the extent of which it is capable."
The Ranger's lodge spoken of above stood near the north-west corner, and was removed about the year 1847. The two stags from the pillars at the entrance now adorn the Albert Gate, Hyde Park. The entire park had a few years previously been drained, and the surface re-laid and planted. The Rangership of the Green Park is at present, together with the rangership of St. James's and Richmond Parks, held by the Duke of Cambridge.
As Thomas Miller remarks in his "Picturesque Sketches of London," the Green Park "possesses but little to interest, beyond a walk beside the gardens which run up in a line with St. James's Street." But those who know the locality will not pass without gazing at one residence (a little above Spencer House), conspicuous by its large bowwindows, the upper one of which is encircled by a gilt railing. This was the house of the bankerpoet, Samuel Rogers, of whom we have already spoken. The gardens of the several houses on this side of the park are leased of the Crown. Owing to its happy site on a sloping ground, the view from the upper walk is very extensive; and whenever the atmosphere is unobscured by fog or smoke, a lovely panorama presents itself.