The Early Home of the London Poulterers—Its Mysterious Desertion—Noteworthy Sites in the Poultry—The Birthplace of Tom Hood, Senior—
A Pretty Quarrel at the Rose Tavern—A Costly Sign-board—The Three Cranes—The Home of the Dillys—Johnsoniana—St. Mildred's
Church, Poultry—Quaint Epitaphs—The Poultry Compter—Attack on Dr. Lamb, the Conjurer—Dekker, the Dramatist—Ned Ward's
Description of the Compter—Granville Sharp and the Slave Trade—Important Decision in favour of the Slave—Boyse—Dunton.
The busy street extending between Cheapside and
Cornhill is described by Stow (Queen Elizabeth) as
the special quarter, almost up to his time, of
the London poulterers, who sent their fowls and
feathered game to be prepared in Scalding Alley
(anciently called Scalding House, or Scalding Wike).
The pluckers and scorchers of the feathered fowl
occupied the shops between the Stocks' Market
(now the Mansion House) and the Great Conduit.
Just before Stow's time the poulterers seem to
have taken wing in a unanimous covey, and settled
down, for reasons now unknown to us, and not
very material to any one, in Gracious (Gracechurch)
Street, and the end of St. Nicholas flesh shambles
(now Newgate Market). Poultry was not worth its
weight in silver then.
The chief points of interest in the street (past
and present) are the Compter Prison, Grocers'
Hall, Old Jewry, and several shops with memorable
associations. Lubbock's Banking House, for instance, is leased of the Goldsmiths' Company,
being part of Sir Martin Bowes' bequest to the
Company in Elizabeth's time. Sir Martin Bowes
we have already mentioned in our chapter on the
The name of one of our greatest English wits is
indissolubly connected with the neighbourhood of
the Poultry. It falls like a cracker, with merry bang
and sparkle, among the graver histories with which
this great street is associated. Tom Hood was the
son of a Scotch bookseller in the Poultry. The
firm was "Vernor and Hood." "Mr. Hood," says
Mrs. Broderip, "was one of the 'Associated Booksellers,' who selected valuable old books for reprinting, with great success. Messrs. Vernor and
Hood, when they moved to 31, Poultry, took into
partnership Mr. C. Sharpe. The firm of Messrs.
Vernor and Hood published 'The Beauties of
England and Wales,' 'The Mirror,' Bloomfield's
poems, and those of Henry Kirke White." At this
house in the Poultry, as far as we can trace, in
the year 1799, was born his second son, Thomas.
After the sudden death of the father, the widow
and her children were left rather slenderly provided
for. "My father, the only remaining son, preferred
the drudgery of an engraver's desk to encroaching
upon the small family store. He was articled to
his uncle, Mr. Sands, and subsequently was transferred to one of the Le Keux. He was a most
devoted and excellent son to his mother, and
the last days of her widowhood and decline
were soothed by his tender care and affection.
An opening that offered more congenial employment presented itself at last, when he was about
the age of twenty-one. By the death of Mr. John
Scott, the editor of the 'London Magazine,'
who was killed in a duel, that periodical passed
into other hands, and became the property of my
father's friends, Messrs. Taylor and Hessey. The
new proprietors soon sent for him, and he became
a sort of sub-editor to the magazine." Of this
period of his life he says himself:—
"Time was when I sat upon a lofty stool,
At lofty desk, and with a clerkly pen,
Began each morning, at the stroke of ten,
To write to Bell and Co.'s commercial school,
In Warneford Court, a shady nook and cool,
The favourite retreat of merchant men.
Yet would my quill turn vagrant, even then,
And take stray dips in the Castalian pool;
Now double entry—now a flowery trope—
Mingling poetic honey with trade wax;
Blogg Brothers—Milton—Grote and Prescott—Pope,
Bristles and Hogg—Glynn, Mills, and Halifax—
Rogers and Towgood—hemp—the Bard of Hope—
Barilla—Byron—tallow—Burns and flax."
The "King's Head" Tavern (No. 25) was kept
at the Restoration by William King, a staunch
cavalier. It is said that the landlord's wife happened to be on the point of labour on the day
of the king's entry into London. She was extremely anxious to see the returning monarch, and
the king, being told of her inclination, drew up at
the door of the tavern in his good-natured way,
and saluted her.
The King's Head Tavern, which stood at the
western extremity of the Stocks' Market, was not at
first known by the sign of the "King's Head," but
the "Rose." Machin, in his diary, Jan. 5, 1560,
thus mentions it:—"A gentleman arrested for debt:
Master Cobham, with divers gentlemen and serving
men, took him from the officers, and carried him to
the Rose Tavern, where so great a fray, both the
sheriffs were fain to come, and from the Rose
Tavern took all the gentlemen and their servants,
and carried them to the Compter." The house was
distinguished by the device of a large, well-painted
rose, erected over a doorway, which was the only
indication in the street of such an establishment.
Ned Ward, that coarse observer, in the "London
Spy," 1709, describes the "Rose," anciently the
"Rose and Crown," as famous for good wine.
"There was no parting," he says, "without a glass;
so we went into the Rose Tavern in the Poultry,
where the wine, according to its merit, had justly
gained a reputation; and there, in a snug room,
warmed with brush and faggot, over a quart of
good claret, we laughed over our night's adventure.
The tavern door was flanked by two columns
twisted with vines carved in wood, which supported
a small square gallery over the portico, surrounded
by handsome ironwork. On the front of this
gallery was erected the sign. It consisted of a
central compartment containing the Rose, behind
which the artist had introduced a tall silver cup,
called "a standing bowl," with drinking glasses.
Beneath the painting was this inscription:—
The Rose Tavern,
Citizen and Vintner.
This Taverne's like its sign—a lustie Rose,
A sight of joy that sweetness doth enclose;
The daintie Flow're well pictur'd here is seene,
But for its rarest sweets—come, searche within!"
About the time that King altered his sign we
find the authorities of St. Peter-upon-Cornhill determining "That the King's Arms, in painted glass,
should be refreshed, and forthwith be set up (in
one of their church windows) by the churchwarden
at the parish charges; with whatsoever he giveth
to the glazier as a gratuity."
The sign appears to have been a costly work, since
there was the fragment of a leaf of an old accountbook found when the ruins of the house were
cleared after the Great Fire, on which were written
these entries:—"Pd. to Hoggestreete, the Duche
paynter, for ye picture of a Rose, wth a Standingbowle and glasses, for a signe, xx li., besides diners
and drinkings; also for a large table of walnut-tree,
for a frame, and for iron-worke and hanging the
picture, vli." The artist who is referred to in this
memorandum could be no other than Samuel Van
Hoogstraten, a painter of the middle of the seventeenth century, whose works in England are very
rare. He was one of the many excellent artists of
the period, who, as Walpole contemptuously says,
"painted still life, oranges and lemons, plate,
damask curtains, cloth of gold, and that medley
of familiar objects that strike the ignorant vulgar."
At a subsequent date the landlord wrote under
"Gallants, rejoice! This flow're is now full-blowne!
'Tis a Rose-Noble better'd by a crowne;
All you who love the emblem and the signe,
Enter, and prove our loyaltie and wine."
The tavern was rebuilt after the Great Fire, and
flourished many years. It was long a depôt in the
metropolis for turtle; and in the quadrangle of the
tavern might be seen scores of turtle, large and
lively, in huge tanks of water; or laid upward on
the stone floor, ready for their destination. The
tavern was also noted for large dinners of the City
Companies and other public bodies. The house
was refitted in 1852, but has since been pulled
Another noted Poultry Tavern was the "Three
Cranes," destroyed in the Great Fire, but rebuilt and
noticed in 1698, in one of the many paper controversies of that day. A fulminating pamphlet,
entitled "Ecclesia et Factio: a Dialogue between
Bow Church Steeple and the Exchange Grasshopper," elicited "An Answer to the Dragon and
Grasshopper; in a Dialogue between an Old
Monkey and a Young Weasel, at the Three Cranes
Tavern, in the Poultry."
No. 22 was the house of Johnson's friends,
Edward and Charles Dilly, the booksellers. Here,
in the year 1773, Boswell and Johnson dined with
the Dillys, Goldsmith, Langton, and the Rev.
Mr. Toplady. The conversation was of excellent
quality, and Boswell devotes many pages to it.
They discussed the emigration and nidification of
birds, on which subjects Goldsmith seems to have
been deeply interested; the bread-fruit of Otaheite,
which Johnson, who had never tasted it, considered
surpassed by a slice of the loaf before him; toleration, and the early martyrs. On this last subject,
Dr. Mayo, "the literary anvil," as he was called,
because he bore Johnson's hardest blows without
flinching, held out boldly for unlimited toleration;
Johnson for Baxter's principle of only "tolerating
all things that are tolerable," which is no toleration
at all. Goldsmith, unable to get a word in, and
overpowered by the voice of the great Polyphemus,
grew at last vexed, and said petulantly to Johnson,
who he thought had interrupted poor Toplady, "Sir,
the gentleman has heard you patiently for an hour;
pray allow us now to hear him." Johnson replied,
sternly, "Sir, I was not interrupting the gentleman;
I was only giving him a signal proof of my attention. Sir, you are impertinent."
Johnson, Boswell, and Langton presently adjourned to the club, where they found Burke,
Garrick, and Goldsmith, the latter still brooding
over his sharp reprimand at Dilly's. Johnson,
magnanimous as a lion, at once said aside to
Boswell, "I'll make Goldsmith forgive me." Then
calling to the poet, in a loud voice he said, "Dr.
Goldsmith, something passed to-day where you and
I dined; I ask your pardon."
Goldsmith, touched with this, replied, "It must
be much from you, sir, that I take ill"—became
himself, "and rattled away as usual." Would
Goldy have rattled away so had he known what
Johnson, Boswell, and Langton had said about him
as they walked up Cheapside? Langton had observed that the poet was not like Addison, who,
content with his fame as a writer, did not attempt
a share in conversation; to which Boswell added,
that Goldsmith had a great deal of gold in his
cabinet, but, not content with that, was always
pulling out his purse. "Yes, sir," struck in
Johnson, "and that is often an empty purse."
In 1776 we find Boswell skilfully decoying his
great idol to dinner at the Dillys to meet the
notorious "Jack Wilkes." To Boswell's horror,
when he went to fetch Johnson, he found him
covered with dust, and buffeting some books, having
forgotten all about the dinner party. A little
coaxing, however, soon won him over; Johnson
roared out, "Frank, a clean shirt!" and was soon
packed into a hackney coach. On discovering "a
certain gentleman in lace," and he Wilkes the
demagogue, Johnson was at first somewhat disconcerted, but soon recovered himself, and behaved
like a man of the world. Wilkes quickly won the
They soon set to work discussing Foote's wit,
and Johnson confessed that, though resolved not to
be pleased, he had once at a dinner-party been
obliged to lay down his knife and fork, throw
himself back in his chair, and fairly laugh it out—
"The dog was so comical, sir: he was irresistible."
Wilkes and Johnson then fell to bantering the
Scotch; Burke complimented Boswell on his successful stroke of diplomacy in bringing Johnson
and Wilkes together.
Mr. Wilkes placed himself next to Dr. Johnson,
and behaved to him with so much attention and
politeness, that he gained upon him insensibly.
No man ate more heartily than Johnson, or loved
better what was nice and delicate. Mr. Wilkes
was very assiduous in helping him to some fine
veal. "Pray give me leave, sir—it is better there
—a little of the brown—some fat, sir—a little of
the stuffing—some gravy—let me have the pleasure
of giving you some butter—allow me to recommend
a squeeze of this orange; or the lemon, perhaps,
may have more zest." "Sir—sir, I am obliged to
you, sir," cried Johnson, bowing, and turning his
head to him with a look for some time of "surly
virtue," but, in a short while, of complacency.
But the most memorable evening recorded at
Dilly's was April 15, 1778, when Johnson and
Boswell dined there, and met Miss Seward, the
Lichfield poetess, and Mrs. Knowles, a clever
Quaker lady, who for once overcame the giant of
Bolt Court in argument. Before dinner Johnson
took up a book, and read it ravenously. "He
knows how to read it better," said Mrs. Knowles to
Boswell, "than any one. He gets at the substance
of a book directly. He tears out the heart of it."
At dinner Johnson told Dilly that, if he wrote a
book on cookery, it should be based on philosophical principles. "Women" he said, contemptuously, "can spin, but they cannot make a good
book of cookery."
They then fell to talking of a ghost that had
appeared at Newcastle, and had recommended
some person to apply to an attorney. Johnson
thought the Wesleys had not taken pains enough
in collecting evidence, at which Miss Seward
smiled. This vexed the superstitious sage of Fleet
Street, and he said, with solemn vehemence, "Yes,
ma'am, this is a question which, after five thousand
years, is yet undecided; a question, whether in
theology or philosophy, one of the most important
that can come before the human understanding."
Johnson, who during the evening had been very
thunderous at intervals, breaking out against the
Americans, describing them as "rascals, robbers,
and pirates," and declaring he would destroy them
all—as Boswell says, "He roared out a tremendous volley which one might fancy could be heard
across the Atlantic," &c.—grew very angry at Mrs.
Knowles for noticing his unkindness to Miss Jane
Barry, a recent convert to Quakerism.
"We remained," says Boswell, writing with
awe, like a man who has survived an earthquake,
"together till it was very late. Notwithstanding
occasional explosions of violence, we were all
delighted upon the whole with Johnson. I compared him at the time to a warm West Indian
climate, where you have a bright sun, quick vegetation, luxurious foliage, luscious fruits, but where
the same heat sometimes produces thunder, lightning, and earthquakes in a terrible 'degree."
St. Mildred's Church, Poultry, is a rectory situate
at the corner of Scalding Alley. John de Asswell
was collated thereto in the year 1325. To this
church anciently belonged the chapel of Corpus
Christi and St. Mary, at the end of Conyhoop Lane,
or Grocers' Alley, in the Poultry. The patronage
of this church was in the prior and canons of St.
Mary Overie's in Southwark till their suppression.
This church was consumed in the Great Fire, anno
1666, and then rebuilt, the parish of St. Mary Cole
being thereunto annexed. Among the monumental inscriptions in this church, Maitland gives
the following on the well-known Thomas Tusser,
of Elizabeth's reign, who wrote a quaint poem on
a farmer's life and duties:—
"Here Thomas Tusser, clad in earth, doth lie,
That some time made the points of husbandrie.
By him then learne thou maist, here learne we must,
When all is done we sleep and turn to dust.
And yet through Christ to heaven we hope to goe,
Who reads his bookes shall find his faith was so.
Among the curious epitaphs in St. Mildred's,
Stow mentions the following, which is worth
"Here Lies Buried Thomas Iken, Skinner.
"In Hodnet and London
God blessed my life,
Till forty and sixe yeeres,
With children and wife;
And God will raise me
Up to life againe,
Therefore have I thought
My death no paine."
A fair monument of Queen Elizabeth had on
the sides the following verses inscribed:—
"If prayers or tears
Of subjects had prevailed,
To save a princesse
Through the world esteemed;
In cutting here had fail'd,
And had not cut her thread,
But been redeem'd;
But pale-faced Death;
And cruel churlish Fate,
To prince and people
Brings the latest date.
Yet spight of Death and Fate,
Fame will display
Her gracious virtues
Through the world for aye,
Spain's Rod, Rome's Ruine,
Heaven's gem, earth's joy,
World's wonder, Nature's chief.
Britaine's blessing, England's splendour,
Religion's Nurse, the Faith's Defender."
JOHN WILKES. (From an Authentic Portrait.)
The Poultry Compter, on the site of the present
Grocers' Alley, was one of the old sheriffs prisons
pulled down in 1817, replaced soon after by a
chapel. Stow mentions the prison as four houses
west from the parish of St. Mildred, and describes
it as having been "there kept and continued time
out of mind, for I have not read the original
hereof." "It was the only prison," says Mr. Peter
Cunningham, "with a ward set apart for Jews
(probably from its vicinity to Old Jewry), and it
was the only prison in London left unattacked by
Lord George Gordon's blue cockaded rioters in
1780." This may have arisen from secret instructions of Lord George, who had sympathies for the
Jews, and eventually became one himself. Middleton, 1607 (James I.), speaks ill of it in his play of
the Phœnix, for prisons at that time were places
of cruelty and extortion, and schools of villainy.
The great playwright makes his "first officer" say,
"We have been scholars, I can tell you—we could
not have been knaves so soon else; for as in that
notable city called London, stand two most famous
universities, Poultry and Wood St., where some are
of twenty years standing, and have took all their
degrees, from the master's side, down to the
mistress's side, so in like manner," &c.
THE POULTRY COMPTER. (From an old Print.)
It was at this prison, in the reign of Charles I.,
that Dr. Lamb, the conjurer, died, after being
nearly torn to pieces by the mob. He was a
creature of the Duke of Buckingham, and had
been accused of bewitching Lord Windsor. On
the 18th of June Lamb was insulted in the City
by a few boys, who soon after being increased
by the acceding multitude, they surrounded him
with bitter invectives, which obliged him to seek
refuge in a tavern in the Old Jewry; but the tumult
continuing to increase, the vintner, for his own
safety, judged it proper to turn him out of the
house, whereupon the mob renewed their exclamations against him, with the appellations of "wizard,"
"conjuror," and "devil." But at last, perceiving
the approach of a guard, sent by the Lord Mayor
to his rescue, they fell upon and beat the doctor in
such a cruel and barbarous manner, that he was by
the said guard taken up for dead, and carried to
the Compter, where he soon after expired. "But
the author of a treatise, entitled 'The Forfeiture of
the City Charters," says Maitland, "gives a different
account of this affair, and, fixing the scene of this
tragedy on the 14th of July, writes, that as the
doctor passed through Cheapside, he was attacked
as above mentioned, which forced him to seek a
retreat down Wood Street, and that he was there
screened from the fury of the mob in a house, till
they had broken all the windows, and forced the
door; and then, no help coming to the relief of the
doctor, the housekeeper was obliged to deliver him
up to save the spoiling of his goods.
"When the rabble had got him into their hands,
some took him by the legs, and others by the
arms, and so dragging him along the streets, cried,
'Lamb, Lamb, the conjuror, the conjuror!' every
one kicking and striking him that were nearest.
"Whilst this tumult lasted, and the City was in an
uproar, the news of what had passed came to the
king's ear, who immediately ordered his guards to
make ready, and, taking some of the chief nobility,
he came in person to appease the tumult. In St.
Paul's Churchyard he met the inhuman villains
dragging the doctor along; and after the knightmarshal had proclaimed silence, who was but ill
obeyed, the king, like a good prince, mildly
exhorted and persuaded them to keep his peace,
and deliver up the doctor to be tried according to
law; and that if his offence, which they charged
him with, should appear, he should be punished
accordingly; commanding them to disperse and
depart every man to his own home. But the
insolent varlets answered, that they had judged
him already; and thereupon pulled him limb from
limb; or, at least, so dislocated his joints, that
he instantly died."
This took place just before the Duke of Buckingham's assassination by Felton, in 1628. The king,
very much enraged at the treatment of Lamb, and
the non-discovery of the real offenders, extorted a
fine of £6,000 from the abashed City.
Dekker, the dramatist, was thrown into this
prison. This poet of the great Elizabethan race
was one of Ben Jonson's great rivals. He thus rails
at Shakespeare's special friend, who had made "a
supplication to be a poor journeyman player, and
hadst been still so, but that thou couldst not set a
good face upon it. Thou hast forgot how thou
ambled'st in leather-pilch, by a play-waggon in the
highway; and took'st mad Jeronimo's part, to get
service among the mimics," &c.
Dekker thus delineates Ben:— "That same
Horace has the most ungodly face, by my fan; it
looks for all the world like a rotten russet apple,
when 'tis bruised. It's better than a spoonful of
cinnamon water next my heart, for me to hear him
speak; he sounds it so i' th' nose, and talks and
rants like the poor fellows under Ludgate—to see
his face make faces, when he reads his songs and
Again, we have Ben's face compared with that of
his favourite, Horace's—"You staring Leviathan!
Look on the sweet visage of Horace; look, parboil'd face, look—has he not his face punchtfull
of eylet-holes, like the cover of a warming-pan?"
Ben Jonson's manner in a play-house is thus
sketched by Dekker:—"Not to hang himself, even
if he thought any man could write plays as well as
himself; not to bombast out a new play with the
old linings of jests stolen from the Temple's revels;
not to sit in a gallery where your comedies have
entered their actions, and there make vile and bad
faces at every line, to make men have an eye to
you, and to make players afraid; not to venture
on the stage when your play is ended, and exchange
courtesies and compliments with gallants, to make
all the house rise and cry—'That's Horace! That's
he that pens and purges humours!"
But, notwithstanding all his bitterness, Dekker
could speak generously of the old poet; for he
thus sums up Ben Jonson's merits in the following
"Good Horace! No! My cheeks do blush for thine,
As often as thou speakest so; where one true
And nobly virtuous spirit for thy best part
Loves thee, I wish one, ten; even from my heart!
I make account, I put up as deep share
In any good man's love, which thy worth earns,
As thou thyself; we envy not to see
Thy friends with bays to crown thy poesy.
No, here the gall lies;—we, that know what stuff
Thy very heart is made of, know the stalk
On which thy learning grows, and can give life
To thy one dying baseness; yet must we
Dance anticks on your paper.
But were thy warp'd soul put in a new mould,
I'd wear thee as a jewel set in gold."
Charles Lamb, speaking of Dekker's. share in
Massinger's Virgin Martyr, highly eulogises the
impecunious poet. "This play," says Lamb,
"has some beauties of so very high an order, that
with all my respect for Massinger, I do not think
he had poetical enthusiasm capable of rising up to
them. His associate, Dekker, who wrote Old
Fortunatus, had poetry enough for anything. The
very impurities which obtrude themselves among
the sweet pictures of this play, like Satan among
the sons of Heaven, have a strength of contrast, a
raciness, and a glow in them, which are beyond
Massinger. They are to the religion of the rest
what Caliban is to Miranda."
Ned Ward, in his coarse but clever "London
Spy," gives us a most distasteful picture of the
Compter in 1698–1700. "When we first entered,"
says Ward, "this apartment, under the title of the
King's Ward, the mixture of scents that arose
from mundungus, tobacco, foul feet, dirty shirts,
stinking breaths, and uncleanly carcases, poisoned
our nostrils far worse than a Southwark ditch, a
tanner's yard, or a tallow-chandler's melting-room.
The ill-looking vermin, with long, rusty beards,
swaddled up in rags, and their heads—some covered
with thrum-caps, and others thrust into the tops of
old stockings. Some quitted their play they were
before engaged in, and came hovering round us,
like so many cannibals, with such devouring
countenances, as if a man had been but a morsel
with 'em, all crying out, 'Garnish, garnish,' as a
rabble in an insurrection crying, 'Liberty, liberty!'
We were forced to submit to the doctrine of nonresistance, and comply with their demands, which
extended to the sum of two shillings each."
The Poultry Compter has a special historical
interest, from the fact of its being connected with
the early struggles of our philanthropists against
the slave-trade. It was here that several of the
slaves released by Granville Sharp's noble exertions were confined. This excellent man, and
true aggressive Christian, was grandson of an
Archbishop of York, and son of a learned Northumberland rector. Though brought up to the
bar, he never practised, and resigned a place in
the Ordnance Office because he could not conscientiously approve of the American War. He
lived a bachelor life in the Temple, doing good
continually. Sharp opposed the impressment of
sailors and the system of duelling; encouraged
the distribution of the Bible, and advocated parliamentary reform. But it was as an enemy to slavery,
and the first practical opposer of its injustice and
its cruelties, that Granville Sharp earned a foremost
place in the great bede-roll of our English philanthropists. Mr. Sharp's first interference in behalf
of persecuted slaves was in 1765.
In the year 1765, says Clarkson, in his work on
slavery, a Mr. David Lisle had brought over from
Barbadoes Jonathan Strong, an African slave, as his
servant. He used the latter in a barbarous manner
at his lodgings, in Wapping, but particularly by
beating him over the head with a pistol, which
occasioned his head to swell. When the swelling
went down a disorder fell into his eyes, which
threatened the loss of them. To this a fever and
ague succeeded; and he was affected with a lameness in both his legs.
Jonathan Strong having been brought into this
deplorable condition, and being therefore wholly
useless, was left by his master to go whither he
pleased. He applied, accordingly, to Mr. William
Sharp, the surgeon, for his advice, as to one who
gave up a portion of his time to the healing of the
diseases of the poor. It was here that Mr. Granville Sharp, the brother of the former, saw him.
Suffice it to say that in process of time he was
cured. During this time Mr. Granville Sharp,
pitying his hard case, supplied him with money,
and afterwards got him a situation in the family of
Mr. Brown, an apothecary, to carry out medicines.
In this new situation, when Strong had become
healthy and robust in his appearance, his master
happened to see him. The latter immediately
formed the design of possessing him again. Accordingly, when he had found out his residence,
he procured John Ross, keeper of the Poultry
Compter, and William Miller, an officer under the
Lord Mayor, to kidnap him. This was done by
sending for him to a public-house in Fenchurch
Street, and then seizing him. By these he was
conveyed, without any warrant, to the Poultry
Compter, where he was sold by his master to John
Kerr for £30. Mr. Sharp, immediately upon this,
waited upon Sir Robert Kite, the then Lord Mayor,
and entreated him to send for Strong and to hear
his case. A day was accordingly appointed, Mr.
Sharp attended, also William M'Bean, a notary
public, and David Laird, captain of the ship
Thames, which was to have conveyed Strong to
Jamaica, in behalf of the purchaser, John Kerr.
A long conversation ensued, in which the opinion
of York and Talbot was quoted. Mr. Sharp made
his observations. Certain lawyers who were present
seemed to be staggered at the case, but inclined
rather to re-commit the prisoner. The Lord Mayor,
however, discharged Strong, as he had been taken
up without a warrant.
As soon as this determination was made known,
the parties began to move off. Captain Laird,
however, who kept close to Strong, laid hold of him
before he had quitted the room, and said aloud,
"Then now I seize him as my slave." Upon this
Mr. Sharp put his hand upon Laird's shoulder, and
pronounced these words, "I charge you, in the
name of the king, with an assault upon the person
of Jonathan Strong, and all these are my witnesses."
Laird was greatly intimidated by this charge, made
in the presence of the Lord Mayor and others,
and fearing a prosecution, let his prisoner go,
leaving him to be conveyed away by Mr. Sharp.
But the great turning case was that of James
Somerset, in 1772. James Somerset, an African
slave, had been brought to England by his master,
Charles Stewart, in November, 1769. Somerset, in
process of time, left him. Stewart took an opportunity of seizing him, and had him conveyed on
board the Ann and Mary, Captain Knowles, to be
carried out of the kingdom and sold as a slave in
Jamaica. The question raised was, "Whether a
slave, by coming into England, became free?"
In order that time might be given for ascertaining the law fully on this head, the case was
argued at three different sittings—first, in January,
1772; secondly, in February, 1772; and thirdly,
in May, 1772. And that no decision otherwise
than what the law warranted might be given, the
opinion of the judges was taken upon the pleadings.
The great and glorious issue of the trial was,
"That as soon as ever any slave set his foot upon
English territory he became free."
Thus ended the great case of Somerset, which,
having been determined after so deliberate an investigation of the law, can never be reversed while
the British Constitution remains. The eloquence
displayed in it by those who were engaged on the
side of liberty was perhaps never exceeded on any
occasion; and the names of the counsellors, Davy,
Glynn, Hargrave, Mansfield, and Alleyne, ought
always to be remembered with gratitude by the
friends of this great cause.
It was after this verdict that Cowper wrote the
following beautiful lines:—
"Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
Imbibe our air, that moment they are free;
They touch our country, and their shackles fall.
That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud
And jealous of the blessing. Spread on, then,
And let it circulate through every vein
Of all your empire, that where Britain's power
Is felt, mankind may feel her mercy too."
It was in this Compter that Boyse, a true type of
the Grub Street poet of Dr. Johnson's time, spent
many of the latter days of his life. In the year
1740 Boyse was reduced to the lowest state of
poverty, having no clothes left in which he could
appear abroad; and what bare subsistence he
procured was by writing occasional poems for the
magazines. Of the disposition of his apparel Mr.
Nichols received from Dr. Johnson, who knew him
well, the following account. He used to pawn
what he had of this sort, and it was no sooner
redeemed by his friends, than pawned again. On
one occasion Dr. Johnson collected a sum of money (fn. 1) .
for this purpose, and in two days the clothes were
pawned again. In this state Boyse remained in
bed with no other covering than a blanket with two
holes, through which he passed his arms when he
sat up to write. The author of his life in Cibber
adds, that when his distresses were so pressing as
to induce him to dispose of his shirt, he used to cut
some white paper in slips, which he tied round his
wrists, and in the same manner supplied his neck.
In this plight he frequently appeared abroad, while
his other apparel was scarcely sufficient for the
purposes of decency.
In the month of May, 1749, Boyse died in
obscure lodgings near Shoe Lane. An - old
acquaintance of his endeavoured to collect money
to defray the expenses of his funeral, so that the
scandal of being buried by the parish might be
avoided. But his endeavours were in vain, for
the persons he had selected had been so often
troubled with applications during the life of this
unhappy man, that they refused to contribute anything towards his funeral.
Of Boyse's best poems "The Deity" contains
some vigorous lines, of which the following are a
"Transcendent pow'r! sole arbiter of fate!
How great thy glory! and thy bliss how great,
To view from thy exalted throne above
(Eternal source of light, and life, and love!)
Unnumbered creatures draw their smiling birth,
To bless the heav'ns or beautify the earth;
While systems roll, obedient to thy view,
And worlds rejoice—which Newton never knew!
* * * * * * * *
Below, thro' different forms does matter range,
And life subsists from elemental change,
Liquids condensing shapes terrestrial wear,
Earth mounts in fire, and fire dissolves in air;
While we, inquiring phantoms of a day,
Inconstant as the shadows we survey!
With them along Time's rapid current pass,
And haste to mingle with the parent mass;
But thou, Eternal Lord of life divine!
In youth immortal shalt for ever shine!
No change shall darken thy exalted name,
From everlasting ages still the same!"
Dunton, the eccentric bookseller of William III.'s
reign, resided in the Poultry in the year 1688.
"The humour of rambling," he says in his autobiography, "was now pretty well off with me, and
my thoughts began to fix rather upon business.
The shop I took, with the sign of the Black Raven,
stood opposite to the Poultry Counter, where I
traded ten years, as all other men must expect, with
a variety of successes and disappointments. My
shop was opened just upon the Revolution, and,
as I remember, the same day the Prince of Orange
came to London."