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Foul language is often characterized as
"billingsgate," but we dare say there are some in America who use the
word without understanding its origin. It comes from the great fish-market in
London, called Billingsgate. It is the only wholesale fish-market in London, and
necessarily is a scene of great confusion. The people who do business in it are
a low and dirty class, and at all hours of the day the market is the scene of
noise, confusion, and filth. By degrees the people got to calling language which
was foul and noisy, " billingsgate."
The market opens as early as three or four o'clock in winter, and in summer by two.
One frosty morning in winter we arose early with a friend to make it a visit. The stars shone brightly as we turned into the still deserted streets, and it seemed a relief for once to thread the streets of busy London and find them silent. Not a soul was abroad, save the blue-coated policeman, who, as we passed him, looked at us with a suspicious glance, as if he thought it very strange that we should be in the streets at that hour of the night.
From one street we passed into another, until we came into the ever-busy Bishopsgate-street, and that too was silent as [-161-] the rest. We walked down this into Grace Church street, then turned to the left down a street near the river Thames, which brought us to the great Fire Monument. Then we began to see the crowds of fishermen with their baskets and carts. At last we were in Billingsgate-market ; and we never witnessed a more singular sight in our life. The large market lies on the banks of the Thames, and slopes from the street down to the water.
This place was covered with the wholesale dealers at their stalls, and all the alleys were crowded with buyers. Gaslights were burning brilliantly at every stall, and the business of buying and selling was going on with a great deal of noise. The street for a long distance each side of the market was full of carts and horses ; there were hundreds of men in the market all talking and running "hither and yon," so that we could not hear ourselves speak for the din. The river was full of fishing-smacks, which were constantly passing up their treasures as fast as the retail-venders bought off the supply already in the stalls. Old women were scattered about with ancient copies of "The Times," or "Chronicle," to sell you cheap, provided you wished to buy some "shrimps," or a "sole," and had no basket to carry them home in. It was a scene of life and bustle, and yet it was dark out in the streets, and all London was asleep!
Billingsgate is named after Belin, a king of the Britons, who built a gate on this spot 400 years before the birth of Christ. From Belin's Gate came the present Billingsgate. There are several good-looking churches in its vicinity, and also several fine mercantile houses.
The fish are brought to the market in various ways. Salmon are brought from Scotland, in warm weather, packed in ice. It takes only twenty-four hours to bring them. Fishing-smacks arrive at all hours of the day and night from the different fishing-grounds of the kingdom. Some of the night-[-162-] railway trains bring loads of fish from Margate, Hastings, &c. &c. Great quantities of shrimps are brought from Margate.
Each stall in the market dispensed a peculiar kind of fish one, shrimps; another, turbots; another, mackerel; another, salmon, and so on.
Some of the wholesale fishermen are very wealthy. The Society of Fishmongers is one of the most powerful in London.
It is thought to be quite an honor to be elected an honorary member of it. Their Hall is one of the finest buildings in the city, and stands at the right of London Bridge, on the north bank of the Thames. Fishmongers have risen to occupy the highest office within the gift of the city - more than one of them has risen to be Lord Mayor.
Fish are dear in London, and as yet comparatively few of the people eat them. The prices are not like those of the different meats, stationary; but rise and fall every day Therefore the latter are preferred.
The scene at Billingsgate well repaid us for our trouble in visiting it. The walk on such a frosty morning gave a healthy hue to our cheeks, and also to our spirits, To emerge suddenly from the death-like streets into such a scene of noise and confusion and brilliant gas-light, had something of the magical in it.
We turned away and walked to the centre of London Bridge. The day had dawned, and the east was full of crimson streaks. London lay before us - and asleep Looking eastward, we saw a dense forest of shipping from the four quarters of the globe; there rose the vast Custom House with its walls tinted over with London smoke ; still further down the stream rose the turrets of the Tower into the clear, cold sky. To the northwest, looking, we saw great St. Paul's dome, a beacon for the lost in the great wilderness of London. [-163-] There was the tall column in memory of the great London fire, when for whole days the flames raged and the sky was black as night with smoke. It was a splendid sight ; and then we thought how it must look on a summer's morning, when the sun rises long before the people wake. Then Wordsworth's splendid lines, written or conceived upon one of these London bridges, over the river Thames, came to our lips:
"Earth has not anything to show more fair;
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open onto the fields and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor valley, rock or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt a calm so deep!
The river glideth at its own sweet will·
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep,
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
With a friend, one day the last summer, we
visited the Thames Tunnel, and though it was not our first visit, by any means,
yet we were awed by the grandeur of the marvellous structure.
From the Bank we turned east into Bishopsgate, then into a Jew street called Houndsditch, and soon entered Whitechapel. Here, at a junction of streets, we saw the famous establishment of " E. Moses and Son," the great clothing-dealers of London. The building is costly and showy, but is, like all such gaudy shops, wanting in taste. We soon came in [-164-] sight of the Tower, with its turrets gilded by the morning's sun, and passed down towards Wapping, one of the dirtiest places in London. It is full of low houses, ignorant people, obnoxious scents. The inhabitants are many of them coal-heavers, and are wretchedly poor. But soon we saw a humble guide-board with "To the Tunnel" inscribed upon it, and turning to the right, saw before us the little circular tower of stone which guards the shaft from the occasional overflow of the water in the Thames.
As we entered the door, each slipped the toll-one penny upon a counter, and passed through a gate which would only admit one person at a time, and which, at the close of the day, indicates the number of persons that have passed through it, thus giving the servants in attendance no opportunity to cheat, were they so disposed. When we had passed this clicking gate, we entered the circular room which is at the top of the shaft of the Tunnel, on the Wapping side of the Thames. Leaning over the rail, we looked far, far below upon the floor of the Tunnel, and saw spectators looking away across to the Rotherhithe side of the river. In the little room, upon its walls, there are a few daubs of paintings, of Naples, and other beautiful places in the world. Gladly leaving these, we commenced our descent by the spiral staircase. At last we were upon the bottom. Gas-lights were burning brightly, for it is always night in this subterranean region. We found that it was impossible to see to the opposite end of the tunnel, either from a curvature, or because of the distance, which is 1200 feet. The noise of music was in our ears, and in the many arches of the Tunnel, it sounded prettily. The Tunnel has two divisions, or half-arches - through one it was intended that carriages should pass, and through the other, foot-passengers. Between the too departments, there are innumerable little cross-arches, which were lit up, and occupied by old women and young women, with [-165-] all kind of gewgaws, and fine baubles, for sale. There was note-paper with pictures of the Tunnel upon it, all manner of views, and trinkets, and edibles, which were pressed upon us with that zeal which European shopmen know so well how to exercise.
In the centre there was a " Steam Cosmorama," turning out views "beautiful and unique,'' for "only one penny!" It was patronized too, once, by Her Majesty the Queen, which of course wreathed the brow of the proprietor in unfading laurels ! Once upon a time, the Queen, attended only by one or two ladies, came here in great haste, and as soon as she had entered, no one was allowed to pass in until she had come out. The keepers of the stalls, the old and young women, were overwhelmed with the visit, so unexpected, so glorious, and with an impulse of truest loyalty, made a path for the blooming Queen with their handkerchiefs and their shawls! Then to think what a sight the few who were in the Tunnel had of Her Majesty ! And the Queen out of curiosity entered the little " Steam Cosmorama," for one penny, and ever since, the word "Royal" has been prefixed to it.
Standing in the middle of the Tunnel, we could see each entrance with distinctness. There was a little coffee-room close by us, and with our companion we took a seat and called for a cup of the beverage and a couple of hot cross-buns, merely to gratify a fancy, for we were not hungry.
There were many gentlemen and ladies present while we were in the Tunnel, mere visitors, and occasionally some person on business crossed from one side to the other. However as a thoroughfare and speculation, it is a great failure, paying scarcely interest upon the capital emphatically sunk in the construction of the Tunnel. The carriage-way has never been completed at the entrances, as it is sure not to pay for the immense outlay of money necessary to construct a gradual approach to the level of the Tunnel.
[-166-] We passed along to the Rotherhithe entrance, where a woman wished to take our likenesses for only a shilling, and an Italian music-grinder gave us his coarse-ground melodies for what we pleased to give in return. Then we sauntered slowly back towards the Wapping side, thinking as we walked of the daring spirit of time man who first proposed to construct this mighty Tunnel, and who accomplished, after years of difficulty, what he undertook. Isamburt Brunel was that man - afterwards Sir I. Brunei, as a reward for his genius, his courage and perseverance, and final success.
In 1824, by express act of Parliament, after the continued suit of Mr. Brunel, a company was formed to construct the Tunnel, and in March, 1825, the workmen commenced sinking the shaft. Day after day it descended, until at last it rested upon the proper level, and the main work commenced. The excavation was to be about 38 feet broad and 22 high, but it never could have been done but for the invention of a shield by Mr. Brunel, in which the workmen could pursue their work with comparative safety. The first few feet of excavation was through a firm clay, and then came a loose and watery sand, and for thirty-two days did the workmen dig ahead in this soil, expecting death every day, until hard ground was again reached.
On the 14th of March, 1826, bursts of water came through upon the workmen, but the precautions taken were so good that the shield was closed against it, and no one was harmed. Two weeks after, a similar occurrence took place. The 1st of January, 1827, 350 feet of the Tunnel were completed, but as depressions in the bottom of the river, were discovered bags of clay were thrown in to fill it up to the usual level.
In May, a great irruption took place while all the workmen were at their posts. The water came pouring in, in volumes upon them, and they ran for their lives. Some were knocked [-167-] down, while others were choking with water. One of the assistant engineers says:
"The wave rolled onward and onward. The men retreated and I followed. Then I met Isamburt Brunel. We turned round: the effect was splendid beyond description. The water as it rose became more and more vivid - as we reached the staircase, a crash was heard, and then a rush of air extinguished all the lights . . . . I looked up and saw the staircase crowded - below, and beheld the overwhelming wave. Dreading the reaction of this wave upon our staircase, I exclaimed, "The staircase will blow up!" Mr. Brunel ordered the men to get up with all expedition, and our feet were scarcely off the bottom stairs, when the first flight, which we had just left, was swept away . . . . . The roll was immediately called - not one absent!"
It took a long time to fill up this chasm with clay, and go to work again at the Tunnel, but the genius of Brunel would not rest. It is said that the workmen became accustomed to expect death at any instant, and that one night at dead midnight, while a son of Mr. Brunel was overseeing the workmen, he heard a cry of "The water! The water !" and hurrying to the place of danger, found the poor exhausted laborers fast asleep in the "shield" -one of them had cried out in his dreams!
In 1828, another irruption took place, and this one was fatal to many lives. A son of Mr. Brunel was at the time in the Tunnel, and was knocked down. He struggled under the water for awhile, his knee was badly injured, and he set out to swim to the entrance, when a mighty wave came sweeping along, which swept him on, and on, and finally up to the top of the shaft, where he was saved. But many of the poor workmen were killed or drowned. This calamity occurred at an unfortunate crisis. The funds of the company were low, and they ceased operations. Mr. Brunel was in a [-168-] state bordering on madness, but for seven years his favorite work was untouched. Yet it is said that every day of that seven long years, he came and viewed with a melancholy brow the half-wrought Tunnel, and would not give up his hopes. See what "Nil desperandum" accomplishes! In 1835, after a respite of seven years, the arches of the Tunnel were unclosed, and laborers went to work at it under the old master-genius, Isamburt Brunel. Five different irruptions took place, but the work went steadily onward until on the morning of the 13th of August, 1841, Mr. Brunel - now Sir I. Brunel - passed under the Thames, completely to the other side. His great thought was at last turned into reality-he had made a pathway for millions under a river which carries upon its bosom the fleets of all nations of the world!
The whole cost was in the region of $3,000,000, but as we have remarked, it does not pay as a pecuniary scheme. Still it stands before the world as the mightiest work of its kind in all the world - and it is well worth three millions! Perhaps there was never a brighter instance of Genius struggling under the most disheartening difficulties, and finally, through every obstacle, achieving not only a glorious success, but an appreciation of it from the highest quarters. Well did Isamburt Brunel deserve the honors he received - without them his name would be immortal.
It is a strange feeling which comes over one as he stands in the centre of the Tunnel, and knows that a mighty river is rolling on over his head, and that great ships with their thousands of tons burthen, sail over him. We well remember our first visit to the Tunnel, and how our companion, an English lady of lively temperament, said as we stood in the centre
"Ah! what if now these arches were to give way, or the river were to gush in upon us, what would become of us?"
The bare idea of such a thing was enough to strike one with horror.
[-169-] But, added she, "I am your cicerone to-day, so we will sit down, and while tasting some marmalade, compute the possibility of the thing!"
Preposterous as it may seem, there are people in London who durst not venture into the Tunnel!
There is no single work of Art in London (with the exception of St. Paul's Cathedral) which excites so much curiosity and admiration among foreigners as the Tunnel. Great buildings are common to all parts of Europe, but the world has not such another Tunnel as this. There is something grand in the idea of walking under a broad river-making a pathway dry and secure beneath ships and navies!
THE OLD BAILEY.
With a friend we went over the Old Bailey,
from top to bottom - over court and over prison, and as it is one of the most
celebrated prisons in Europe, we saw much which was striking and full of
We saw the spot on which the celebrated Jack Sheppard was executed, where that cunning deceiver, Jonathan Wild, met a similar fate; and witnessed the Old Bailey Court, in session.
There is no object in London which has such a dismal aspect as this prison. Its massive walls, so grim and dark, strike the beholder with an awe which chills him to the heart. Yet of all the countless throng which passes it each day, how few ever think of the wretched culprits who are dungeoned away from liberty within those dreary walls. It is only the stranger, unused, whose heart throbs quickly at the sight.
The Prison is but a little way from the General Post Office, or Saint Paul's, and lies between Fleet-street and Holborn, on a cross street which is named "Old Bailey." The morn-[-170-]ing on which we visited it, the Court in a part of the building was in session, or in fact the Lord Mayor was opening it. The room was a small one, considerably smaller than the court-rooms of America, and ranged upon the Bench were the Lord Mayor, the Recorder, the Sheriffs, and a few Aldermen. They were all in their wigs amid robes, and the Mayor, Recorder and High Sheriff wore the insignia of office upon their breasts. A jury was being impanelled while we were present, so that we saw no trial, nor exhibition of legal skill. In this little room all sorts of crimes are tried, from petty larceny up to treason. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Mayor, Recorder, Common Serjeant and Aldermen are the judges, but pretty much all the cases are tried before the Recorder and the Common Serjeant. There was no more decorum in the court-room than in similar places in this country.
The Court, as we have remarked, wore wigs and solemn gowns, amid also all the lawyers. It is claimed that this gives to the court-room a solemnity which it needs, but we must confess that the sight of a couple of lawyers in full costume, and at their profusion of wrangling, always excites our laughing, rather than reverential faculties.
There was no one in the Prisoner's Dock, but we could not help remembering some of the celebrated persons who have stood there Fauntleroy, the celebrated Quaker forger, took his trial there, and was hung in front of the prison. Eliza Fenning had her trial there in 1815, and circumstances have since transpired which render it almost certain, that she was innocent of the crime for which she was hung. She was a slight, beautiful creature, and it is said, grew so emaciated after her sentence, that when she was suspended upon the gallows there was not weight enough in her body to produce strangulation, and Jack Ketch was obliged to apply additional weight to produce death.
The poet Savage had his trial there in 1727, and Jonathan [-171-] Wild in 1725. Jack Sheppard swung before the gates of the Old Bailey a year previous. Dr. Dodd had his trial also in the same place.
There is, to us, something exceedingly painful in the sight of a prisoner taking his trial. The suspense of an innocent man must be full of agony, and the alternate hope and fear of the guilty one cannot but be terrible. The countenances of such men are painful, whether guilty or innocent, and the innocent man is much more likely to be confused than the hardened criminal.
A friend introduced us to the Governor of the Prison, Mr. Hope, who received us in a very gentlemanly manner, and learning that we wished to go over the Prison, summoned the chief turnkey, who at once took us to the kitchen for the male department. There were large fires and boilers, and everything was looking clean and neat. The prisoners are fed with meat four times a week, and soup three, besides a regular allowance of bread and potatoes.
We soon came to where, in an open court, surrounded by iron pickets, but open above to the sky and air, some prisoners were taking exercise. They were all waiting for trial, and among them were some pleasant faces, but upon the majority crime was written in plain characters. We passed through several such yards, in all of which a party of prisoners were taking exercise, by walking round and round, close by the iron pickets. One party exercises thus for an hour, when they return to their cells to give room to another party.
We entered the cells, and found them neat, wholesome, and clean. We now came to that part of the prison where the convicts are confined, and were shocked with the expression of every countenance. There was generally an expression of low cunning upon the faces of the prisoners; their eves were keen, but their foreheads low.
[-172-] We saw in one cell a daring burglar who had, a short time previous, broken into the house of an American near Regent's Park. In one yard the turnkey pointed up at a corner, and said that a sweep who was a prisoner, had contrived to run up forty feet of the bare wall, and climb over a fence of iron spikes. It is impossible to conceive how it was done, and now, the corner where two walls meet, is guarded by a row of iron teeth which project from the wall, a short distance from the summit, to prevent any similar attempts.
We entered one room where writing materials were provided for the prisoners awaiting trial. A dozen persons were seated upon the wooden benches, and were leaning forward upon a table, writing letters to friends. We caught the heading of one of the letters, and it ran "Dear Mother." We were struck with the sentence, and thought how much of wretchedness in this world time innocent must suffer with the guilty. Almost all of these persons had hopes of an acquittal. through the abilities of some able lawyer, or the positive merits of the case. There are several noted criminal lawyers who practise at the Courts of the Old Bailey, some of them making twenty-five thousand dollars a year.
We were now shown the Condemned Cell - the place where persons are kept after a sentence of death has been passed upon them. It was a gloomy little spot, with hardly any light creeping into it. We could not help thinking of the weary nights which many a poor wretch has spent in that solemn cell-of that last night, with all its bitter woe and agony. There was no occupant then - it was as silent as a tomb, and while we rested in it for a few moments it seemed to us as if we could see and feel something of the scenes which it had witnessed. If those walls could only speak, what tales of misery they would tell. If the evil-inclined could only see the bitterness of spirit which those old, grim walls have witnessed, they would "go, and sin no more." [-173-] If they could see the tears of repentance upon the pale cheeks of the condemned - too late for pardon in this world - there would be no more pleasure in crime.
Mrs. Manning was the last occupant of the cell, and we remembered her case well. Husband and wife were both engaged in the murder of a friend, to get a large amount of money, in his possession.
The chapel of the Old Bailey is a neat place, though rather small for the accommodation of all the prisoners. There are two or three boxes in it for the Governor and the Sheriffs, and some open benches for young offenders, but the older ones were separated from the rest by an iron fence. There is a seat which is always occupied by persons condemned to execution. Upon the last Sunday a sermon is preached for the especial benefit of the condemned, and here he sits with all the rest gazing at him. Years ago his coffin used to be placed right before his eyes, and strangers could gain an entrance to look at him during the sermon, by paying the turnkey a few shillings, but such barbarities are not now allowed.
We now passed into the female department of the prison - the first room we entered contained two quite handsome young women, and as a rule there was a great difference between the appearance of the male and female prisoners. The latter were ashamed, and could not conceal it. One face was really a beautiful one, and crimsoned with blushes, but some of them seemed wholly lost to goodness, and such were indescribably more horrible than my of the men's faces. Why is it that an utterly depraved woman looks so much worse than a depraved man? It certainly is so, and perhaps the reason is, that we all expect to see virtue and beauty in women, but we are not so confident of men and when we are disappointed, the look of Vice upon the woman's face looks more hideous than on a man's.
In one ward we saw a woman with as sweet a looking [-174-] babe as ever we saw out of it. It was a touching sight - such pure Innocence in the arms of Guilt. And when we thought of the cruel scorn of the world, we wished, almost, that the babe might die, instead of living to herd with wicked men, or if among good, to be taunted with its birth. Born in Newgate let the child be gentle as the gentlest, pure as the purest and beautiful as a poet's ideal, and that stigma would forever banish it from society.
There was a young girl in the same ward only eight years old, who looked as if she was frightened at our approach. We wondered how one so young could get to such a place. Her face was very pale, and she was reading a little Testament when we entered the room she curtsied to us gracefully, and as we looked at her, we thought her eyes filled with tears. She did not seem to be at borne with those around her. Close to her side there was one of the ugliest- looking hags we ever have seen, with reddish eyes, and a low forehead. Newgate has its contrasts as well as the world outside its walls.
It was in this prison that Jack Sheppard was imprisoned, and from which he made that daring escape which handed his name down to us in rhyme and romance. We are clearly of the opinion that such books as Ainsworth's "Jack Sheppard" should not be tolerated in society, or rather that men of conscience should not write such books, for they make heroism out of crime. Yet the daring courage of Jack is unquestionable, and some of his adventures were most wonderful.
In a book entitled "Annals of Newgate," by Rev. Mr Vilette, who was once a chaplain of Newgate, or the Old Bailey, he says as he was returning one evening from the west part of the town, and had lost his way, he stopped before a porch to listen to the voice of a preacher, when he heard the following words:
Now my beloved, what a melancholy consideration it is [-175-] that men should show so much regard for the preservation of a poor perishing body, that can remain at most for a few years, and at the same time be so unaccountably negligent of a precious soul which must continue to the ages of eternity! We have a remarkable instance of this in a notorious malefactor, well-known by the name of Jack Sheppard. What amazing difficulties has he overcome, what astonishing things has he performed for the sake of a miserable carcase hardly worth having! How dexterously did he pick the padlock of his chain with a crooked nail! How manfully burst his fetters asunder, climb up the chimney, wrench out an iron bar, break his way through a stone wall, and make the strong door of a dark entry fly before him, till he got upon the leads of the prison; and then fixing a blanket to the wall, with a spike, he stole out of the chapel how intrepidly did he descend to the top of the turner's house, and how cautiously run down the stairs, and make his escape at the street door! O that ye all were like Jack Sheppard! Mistake me not, my brethren : I do not mean in a carnal sense, for I propose to spiritualize these things. Let me exhort you then to open the locks of your hearts with the nail of repentance; burst asunder the fetters of your beloved lusts ; mount the chimney of hope take from thence the bar of good resolution; break through the stone walls. of despair, and all the strongholds in the dark entry of the valley of the shadow of death ; raise yourselves to the level of divine meditation ; fix the blanket of faith with the spike of the church ; let yourselves down to the turner's house of resignation, and descend the stairs of humanity ; so shall you come to the door of deliverance from the prison of inquity, and escape the clutches of that old executioner, the devil, who goeth about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour!"
Any stranger who has walked often up that
busiest of London thoroughfares, the Strand, must have noticed Somerset House.
Its gates of iron open into the street on the left hand as you go west, about
three fourths of the way up from St. Paul's to Charing Cross. Passing one day
near the gates, we entered the court of the House - if it be proper to designate
so magnificent a pile of buildings by that name. The buildings are in a
quadrangular form, are of great height, and constructed of granite. The open
court is of great extent, and what is a little singular, the buildings not only
extend far above the level of the court, but also far below. A
railing of granite runs round the area, and leaning over this, you look far
below to a second level which is the basis of the structure, though very much
below the level of the streets. There are subterranean passages running in every
direction some opening down on the shore of the river Thames, when the tide is
out, and when it is in, half filled with the tide. Here we found immense cellars
also, for storing provisions and wines, and vaults in which the echoes of our
voices seemed hollow and unearthly.
The buildings can be seen best from the court, though a good view of them can be obtained from the river while or board a steamer.
Upon one of the walls, about forty feet above the level of the court, there is inserted the face of a watch. This singular circumstance always arrests the attention of the stranger. Tradition says that when Somerset House was being built, one of the workmen, or architect from the Continent, while upon a staging, lost his foothold and would have fallen to the ground below had not his strong watch chain caught in some part of the staging, which arrested his descent for a moment, [-177-] long enough for a kindly hand to reach forth to his rescue. This story was told us by a person well versed in antiquarian ore. The workman to commemorate the feat, inserted the face of the watch in the wall.
The magnificent Somerset House was once the residence and property of one man. In 1536, Henry VIII. married the sister of Edward Seymour, who was at once made a peer. When his sister gave birth to a prince, he was made Earl of Hertford, and four years later elected Knight of the Garter, and appointed Lord Chamberlain for life. The King died at this time, intending to heap new honors on his favorite, and left instructions in his will that his intentions be carried into effect. In 1546 he was elected by the Privy Council, Governor of the young king Edward VI., and shortly after was made the Duke of Somerset. He then owned property upon which the Somerset House was built, and now stands, the whole of Covent Garden, and neighborhood. He soon began to construct the present Somerset House, intending it to be a magnificent family mansion for himself. It was a grander private scheme than England had seen executed, and as at the very time she was engaged in a war, and a terrible plague raged in London, the people were discontented, for all the while the Duke of Somerset was spending enormous sums of money upon this building, and importing Italian architects. For the sake of personal aggrandizement he brought his brother to the block, and in many ways rendered himself unpopular, and he was finally committed to the Tower, "for seeking his own glory as appeared by his building of most sumptuous and costly buildings, and specially in the time of the King's wars and the King's soldiers unpaid."
He appealed privately to his great rival, the Earl of Warwick, and was released, but was shortly after again confined, and finally beheaded. His own nephew, Edward VI., in his diary, thus coldly notices the death of his uncle:-
[-178-] "Jan. 22.-The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off between eight and nine this morning, upon Tower Hill."
Thus perished the founder of Somerset House. Many of the people loved him, and a few moments before his death a rumor among the multitude said that his nephew the King had pardoned him, and a cry arose of "Pardon! pardon! God save the King !" But it was a mistake, and the Duke was beheaded after a new hope of life. Although the Duke constructed Somerset House, he never inhabited it. After his death the sister of the King, Princess Elizabeth, inhabited the house, and after she came to the throne it was a favorite residence of hers. Anne of Denmark afterwards used it, and in 1625 the body of James I. lay in state there.
In 1780 a portion of the house was devoted to the exhibition of the paintings of the Royal Academy. The Society of Antiquaries and Royal Astronomical and Geological Societies also now have apartments in it.
The Admiralty has large offices in it. The Civil List and Audit Office are also there, and a Board of Stamp and Taxes Revenue. In the southern front of the buildings is the Income Tax Office.
Perhaps we can give a better idea of the business done in it, by stating a fact. In the Taxes department (which only includes probate and legacy duties, land taxes and the Income tax), 700 clerks are employed, and the yearly revenue collected by these, averages more than 60,000,000 of dollars, or nearly one quarter of the whole public revenue.
It is a little singular that a building constructed by a private man for his private residence should now be used as it is. It is a pleasant souvenir of the past, that "golden age," in which time noble was all-in-all, but the millions of people little better than slaves.
THE FIRE MONUMENT.
The Fire Monument is one of the finest in
the world. It commemorates the great London Fire, which occurred in the year
1666, or nearly two hundred years ago. The column stands upon the spot where the
fire is supposed to have originated. It stands or Fish-street Hill, on the city
side of London Bridge, and overlooks the whole metropolis, but especially the
river with its manly bridges, the gray old Tower, St. Paul's, the Bank, and
Royal Exchange. We visited the top of the monument one pleasant winter morning.
A sixpence, admittance fee, was demanded at the door, and we commenced the
toilsome ascent through a worse than Egyptian darkness. Three hundred and
forty-five steps brought us out into light and wholesome air on the summit. The
sight was almost overpowering. The morning, though a winter one, was sunny, and
the atmosphere of that peculiar clearness and purity only known when frost is in
the sky; and scarcely ever, then, in London. Just below us, on the right hand,
the Bloody Tower lay, with its cupolas shining in the morning's sun- and still
farther on, the docks lay with their harvest of ships and steamers. The Thames
ran gracefully along at our feet, with its bosom freighted with steamers,
barges, bridges, and boats. On the left was the low-roofed building which holds
in its vaults the wealth of the world - the Bank of England; still farther on,
the glorious Saint Paul's Cathedral ; and in the south-west, in the spot where
the sun would set, Westminster Abbey raised to the sky its venerable walk, the
pleasantest sight of all, the sight most suggestive of dim and shadowy thoughts.
All London and its suburbs lay spread out before us. Gazing down upon the Strand, Holborn, Bishopsgate, and Cheapside, the great street-arteries of London, Wordsworth's lines [-180-] written on Westminster Bridge at sunrise, when the city-world was asleep, came to our mind, and the thought of "All that mighty heart" throbbing impulsively before us, was grander than to see it "lying still." Men pouring down Cheapside in one incessant, never-ending stream, earnestly moving onward ; lawyers pressing after debtors, merchants intent on great bargains, stockholders on good dividends, doctors on a large practice, the trades people on a lively market, and the crossing-sweepers on making pathetic bows, such as win sixpences instead of pennies - carts, wagons, coaches, cabs, omnibuses, and carriages, all pushing on, and making an uproar like that of a thunder-storm! We know of nothing grander, in the line of sounds, than the noise of a great city, heard away from it, so far that no harshness is heard, but a low, heavy thunder. It is to the ear what a yellow, doomsday, London fog is to the eye.
It was a long time before we could waken from the trance we were in the contemplation of' the world at our feet; looking as we did from Greenwich in the East to Westminster in the West from Stamford Hill in the North, to Clapham in the South ; taking in such myriads of churches so many acres of houses so many forests of shipping ; so many hideous, awful streets, so many beautiful, wealthy streets ; so many wretched, drunken, starving homes, so many happy and generous homes; so many pleasant resorts for the wise and good, so many dens of crime and pollution , and so many hundreds of thousands, even millions, of' human beings. Now the scene before us was all excitement, all noise, and bustle, amid confusion. A few hours sweep on-
"And all that mighty heart is lying still!"
The great world which now lay open before us with its [-181-] gigantic impulses, its miraculous energies, bared to our vision would in a few hours be helpless as an infant.
A few years pass away and then they all sleep the Sleep of Ages! Verily, sic transit gloria mundi!
"Life in its
many shapes is there,
The busy and the gay;
Faces that seem too young and fair,
To ever know decay.
"Wealth, with its waste, its pomp and pride,
Leads forth its glittering train;
And Poverty's pale face beside,
Asks aid, and asks in vain.
"The shops are filled from many lands-
Toys, silks, and gems, and flowers;
The patient work of many hands,
The hope of many hours.
"Yet mid life's myriad shapes around,
There is a sigh of death!
* * * * *
The Great Fire, of which this Tower is
commemorative, consumed four hundred and thirty-six acres of buildings, over
thirteen thousand houses. St. Paul's, ninety churches, Guildhall, the Royal
Exchange, Custom House, four bridges, Newgate, fifty-two Companies' Halls, and a
vast number of other edifices. The amount of property consumed was over
Pepys, in his Diary, gives, in a few quaint words, the following vivid description of the fire:-
"Then did the city shake indeed, and the inhabitants did tremble, and fled away in great amazement from their houses, lest the flames should devour them. Rattle, rattle, rattle, was the noise which the fire struck upon the ear round about, u if there had been a thousand iron chariots beating upon [-182-] the stones; and if you opened your eye to the opening of the streets where the fire was come, you might see in some places whole streets at once in flames, that issued forth as if they had been so many great forges from the opposite windows, which, folding together, united into one great flame throughout the whole street ; and then you might see the houses tumble, tumble, tumble, from one end of the street to the other, with a great crash, leaving the foundations open to the view of the heavens.
"And now horrible flakes of fire mounted up to the sky, and the yellow smoke of London ascended up towards heaven, like the smoke of a great furnace - a smoke so great as darkened the sun at noonday. If, at any time, the sun peeped forth, it looked red like blood. The cloud of smoke was so great that travellers did ride at noonday some miles in the shadow thereof, though there was no other cloud beside to be seen in the sky!"
And yet all this apparent waste of property by fire is now supposed to have been a mercy and a real benefit to London. It demolished vile streets, wretched houses, and buildings, built in miserable taste, and opened a chance for new streets, wider and more wholesome than the old ones, new houses, and new edifices, built upon the principles of a correct taste. Often in the world, if we observe, we shall see that what in the present appear as calamities the future proves to be blessings.
The whole top of the Monument is inclosed by an iron net-work. It was erected a few years since, because jumping from the top of the Monument had become a popular way of committing suicide. The last suicide which occurred was but one of the many tragedies enacted privately in this world of ours.
A young woman in a wealthy family was seduced with the solemn promise of marriage by a scion of nobility. She [-183-] was young, fond, and beautiful, and loved "not wisely, but, alas, too well." Week after week did the cruel seducer postpone the day of marriage, until at length the truth began dimly to dawn upon the young creature's soul. The truth! - that he had dishonored her, and was a liar and a villain. And yet so deeply-rooted was her love, she could not loathe him, but clung to his promise still longer, till at last a report came to her ears that he was to be married, but not to her. Ordering a close cabriolet and driver, she went to the rooms of the seducer, and asked him plainly if the report were true. He was thunderstruck, and knew hardly what to say.
"Will you marry me?" shrieked the now half-mad girl.
He protested that he loved her, and had always loved her, but she asked,
"Will you marry me?'
They were not alone - his young companions were about him - but she saw no one but him, heard no one but him, and asked but the one question:
"Will you marry me?"
At last his answer came - he loved her, but his station forbade the marriage - he would like to, but Fate said-
In a moment she was gone. To the driver she said, "To the Fire Monument!" and a little while after a horse all smoking stood before it, and a young woman dropped a sixpence into the palm of the keeper. He noticed she looked wild, arid trembled excessively, but suspected nothing wrong. Swiftly she glided up that winding staircase, and soon stood alone at the summit! It was the work of an instant - she stands on the giddy edge - she balances in the air for a second - a slight shriek-a groan of horror from the crowd below, who notice her too late to save her - and she lies a mangled corpse on the pavement below.
This is a tradition of the Monument.
A JEWISH SYNAGOGUE.
One pleasant Saturday morning we
accompanied a friend on a visit to the Synagogue of St. Helen's - the best
Synagogue in London, and perhaps in Europe. We walked from Bishopsgate into
Crosby Square, and from there through a narrow lane to the building, the
exterior of which does not prepossess the observer in its favor. It is situated
in a dirty quarter of London, where Jews of all classes and conditions
congregate, and is but a little distance from the Rag Fair, which is kept up by
the poorer class of Jews. We went often through this part of London, and several
times when the Rag Fair was in full operation, and invariably came away
disgusted. The confusion on such occasions can scarcely be described. A large,
open court is filled with men and women of ghastly, avaricious countenances, and
dressed in decayed habiliments. The commodity which they sell and buy is - rags,
and nothing else. Old clothes, and hats, and boots are bought up by large
dealers from the smaller ones, and are shipped to Ireland, and indeed all parts
of the world. Old men and women continually traverse the streets of London with
their cries of "Old clo'! old clo'!" I purchasing for a merely nominal
sum of money all worn-out garments, of whatever description. The Rag Fair is
held two days in each week, in Houndsditch - a street principally monopolized by
The Synagogue was in this region, and we were little expecting the sight which was soon presented to us. Passing into the interior, we forgot ourselves, and pulled off our hats as usual in a place of worship, but were quickly reminded of our mistake, for we were requested by an officer to put them on again! It was in their eyes a violation of the sanctity of the place to remain uncovered.
The place was crowded - the lower part was devoted to [-185-] males, and the galleries to females. Every man wore his hat and the taled, a white, embroidered scarf. The interior is of no great extent, and yet it wore an air of spaciousness and elegance which surprised us. It is said to be one of the finest specimens of interior-architecture to be found in London. The upper portion of the place - where the altar usually stands in churches - the "ark," consists of a beautiful recess a little elevated from the floor of the rest of the building, and is built of fine Italian marble. A splendid velvet curtain, in red, hangs over the lower part of the alcove, fringed with gold, and emblazoned with a crown. In this recess are kept the books of the Law. Between rich Doric and Corinthian columns are three arched windows, with stained, arabesque glass. Upon the centre one is the name of Jehovah, in Hebrew, and the tables of the Law and this sentence
"KNOW IN WHOSE PRESENCE THOU STANDEST."
The appearance of this recess from where we stood was exquisitely beautiful. The lower portion of it was the "Ark," or "a shadow of that in the Temple." The decorations were gorgeous, and as the sunlight from the beautiful eastern windows fell upon it, we could almost unite with the Jews present in their feelings of reverence for that holy spot. As the worship proceeded, we listened with intense interest, for it was our first visit to such a place, and to us the Jews have always seemed a melancholy, interesting, class of religionists. It seemed as if we were living in David's or Abraham's days, and were mingling with them in worship. Yet we missed the glorious Temple of old, and there was a look on the faces of all the Jews present which told of their state of dispersion and desolation. While we were there, they sang some Hebrew melodies, and they were exceedingly plaintive. There was a wild sorrowfulness in them which it was touching to [-186-] near. The women in the galleries sang with excellent skill but the gentle mournfulness of their songs reminded us of when-
"By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion."
The galleries were a beautiful spectacle - in England we never saw a more beautiful collection of women. The most of them had the prominent features of Jewish female beauty - dark hair, flashing black eyes, and a tender expression. They are said to be the most affectionate wives and mothers in the world.
The countenances of the men we cannot say were prepossessing. There was an eager, avaricious look upon almost every face. Yet we could see that they were in earnest about their worship. It is a prominent feature in their character - an intensity of devotion to whatever they pursue, in religion as well as business.
One significant fact was given to us by a Londoner, and it is, that no people in the world give more to the poor than the Jews. In the Synagogue we visited, a Jew never passes by it without adding something to its wealth. Not a Jew is ever allowed by his fellow religionists to come upon the parish, and every one is allowed a respectable burial, however decayed in circumstances. The professed followers of Jesus Christ - He who inculcated generosity to the poor - may well learn a lesson in this respect from these Hebrews, for their fellow church-members are allowed to perish with paupers and make their resting-place with the world's outcast, because of poverty!
The morning service was over, and we passed out into the Street. Although it was Saturday, the streets were silent, solemn, and still. They were "Jew-streets," and they keep their Sabbath with the greatest show of decorum. Hounds-[-187-]ditch, which every other day of the week is crowded with a disagreeable population, now was quiet and pleasant. As soon, however as we had passed into Bishopsgate-street, we were among Christians, and the tumult was great as ever, and the change striking and painful.
There are in London over 20,000 Jews, amid they are an exceedingly industrious class of people. We need not say that some of them are very wealthy. The Rothschilds, Solomons, arid others, are among the wealthiest men of the world. As a religious class, the Jews in former years suffered terrible persecutions, and they cannot now sit in Parliament as legislators. Once, in London, the Jews set fire to their own houses, and with their wives and children voluntarily perished in the flames, to escape from their infernal Christian persecutors! A terrible vengeance has come upon them for their cruel treatment of Christ and the early Christians. Thank heaven, the days of religious persecution in England are nearly past!
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