Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Sketches of London Life and Character, by Albert Smith et. al., [1849] - Foreign Gentlemen in London

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life22.gif (34933 bytes)ONE of these days there will be no foreigners. We have very nearly managed the preliminary arrangements, and I have great hope that several years before Lord Nelson gets his lions, Mr. Barry his Victoria Tower, or the Peninsular hero his medal, the genus Foreigner will be extinct. Time is already no more, and we have now only to abolish space-a trifling task in an age of ebullitions and abolitions like this.
    The electric telegraph at present writes its own letters. I believe this is the last improvement, but I have not seen the Mechanic's Magazine for a week, and by this time, perhaps, the telegraph may deliver its own letters also, and ask for the postage. But, at all events, this is what we are coming to. The submarine line between Dover and Calais would have been open ere this but for the absurd curiosity of a large fish (perhaps the sea-serpent seen by Captain M'Quhae, of H.M.S. Daedalus, the other day), which rooted up half a league of rope, with epicurean views; but the damage will soon be repaired. The Liverpool and New York submarine telegraph will be ready in time for Mr. Macready to threaten the first "legitimate" misfortune which is to fall upon next season. The [-176-] Leadenhall Street and Calcutta line is slightly delayed - the East India Directors, who had solemnly promised to guarantee a dividend, having changed their minds, and being anxious to persuade the share-holders that no such promise was ever made; but Young Ganges is impetuous, and will have his rights. And, although so much expedition is hardly possible, it is hoped that the telegraph to the West Indies will be complete before the poor planters can finally resolve upon renouncing their connexion with us, and annexing themselves to some country which will ruin them a little more creditably. By the time these branches are ready to transmit intelligence, all Europe will be similarly furnished. The next step will obviously be a universal language; and that once settled, I should be glad to know what a foreigner is, or how there can be such a person? All mankind will be brothers; but Mr. Cobden need not exult, nor the Horse Guards look Blue, for we shall not sink the navy nor disband the army, until it be shown, contrary to present belief, that brothers cannot quarrel as energetically as anybody else.
    There will be no foreigners, but we shall fight just as much as we do now, or perhaps a little more, for the better one knows a person the less chance there is of agreeing with him. The moment people grow intimate, they begin to take liberties, and to bore you; and Orlando was perfectly right, if he wished to be upon good terms with Jaques, to desire that they "might be better strangers." But all distinction of nationality must cease and die away; and if you address a dusky Gent as "Child of India," or an ebony-coloured lionne as "Daughter of Africa," you [-177-] will be answered in the tone a still darker cosmopolite uses in the Memoires du Diable, "Monsieur le baron, je vous ferai observer, qu'en m'appelant fils de l'enfer, vous dites une de ces létises qui ont cours dans toutes les langues connues. Je ne suis pas plus le fils de l'enfer que vous n'etes le fils de votre chambre - parce que toua l'habitez."
    But in the meantime, and while, with all our disposition to fraternize, there still exists a difference, between the gentlemen who bank respectively with Miss Coutts in London, Citizen Gouin in Paris, Count Torlonia in Rome, M. Salamanca in Madrid, and Mr. King in New York, it may be worth while to note a few of the characteristics which are about to be lost.
    Here, by the way, I beg to record my personal protest against an act which seems to me one of great inhospitality - I mean the destruction of the Quadrant. Probably, by the time this paper appears, the columns will have fallen, and in each crash of their iron, London ought to hear a reproach for its treatment of the foreigner. For the Quadrant was the especial refuge, harbour, and retreat of the stranger. One might parody Cowper on his poplars
        "The Quadrant has fallen--farewell to the shade
         And the cabbage-cigars of that cool colonnade. 
        There lap-dogs no longer are vended by thieves, 
        Nor Poles wear great stars, in which no one believes.

        "The Frenchmen have fled to some other retreat,
        With their quaint puckered trousers and mal chaussés feet, 
        And the scene, where their eloquence charmed us before, 
        Resounds with Republican argot no more.

        [-178-] Tis a sight to convince us, if anything can, 
        That the bump of destructiveness triumphs in man; 
        Of a streetful of columns behold the debris, 
While we can't finish one for the Cid of the Sea."

    The Quadrant was the home of the stranger. The Parisian was there reminded (though he never would confess it) of his Palais-Royal, and its glittering boutiques. The Italian remembered his own brilliant skies, and (as a Roman, who had retained enough of the old conquering spirit to vanquish our language, and reduce it to the slavery of jokes, declared) resorted to the Quadrant as the only way of finding out where the sun was. The German, not particular where he was, rather liked a place where he could smoke without getting wet, but still was not particular. The Pole found his account in a promenade where fair and charitable ladies walked in an afternoon, purse in hand, and where his sallow face and melodramatic expression of something between hunger and anger, often brought a disgusted footman stalking after him with a half-sovereign, which the delicacy of the sender had enveloped in paper, and with which the grateful recipient immediately proceeded to billiards. Then the Jews, though the Prince Regent's architecture does not, perhaps, recall to them any precise image, like to show themselves (as they always do) where smart and rich people congregate, and where money is spent; and the Mosaic-Arab race was usually well represented on the Regent Street Rialto. Of the Orientals - who hypocritically sweep crossings in the day-time, but who, it is believed, are Thugs, and go about at night strangling stray young noblemen - there was also a specimen or two near the Quadrant, lurking near [-179-] carriage-doors to identify the victims. In short, the quadrant was a prolonged vestibule to the Hall of Nations. Vale! vale! inquit Iolas. But I should not like to be the ghost of the gentleman who prepared the Act of Parliament for destroying the place, when he meets the ghost of George the Fourth in purgatory.
    Foreign Gentlemen in London have, as has been said, certain distinctive marks - although, as a general rule, gentlemen are pretty much alike everywhere. And there is one place where foreign gentlemen - it is useless and foolish to blink the fact - have an enormous advantage over English gentlemen. I mean in the drawing-room. Patriotic moralists, and writers who are not unwilling to stoop for popularity to clique prejudices, have laboured, by dint of much cant, to prove the reverse: and lady-writers especially, who like at every turn to parade the "object" of their stories, have endeavoured, by putting down the foreigner, to exalt the Englishman, and have twaddled about "showy, theatrical manners," and "noble, manly reserve," and have imagined they were making out a case for their clients by speaking contemptuously of a man "who sought to be acceptable to every person present," and in contrasting him with the stiff-backed native, "too proud to try to please, and apart and distinct, like a superior being." This is not the place to preach, or one might say something to professed moralists about Christian humility and the like - nay, but that I do not conceive man to be a "worm" (except in his capacity of a filter of ardent spirits), one might make a severe allusion to one's fellow worm curling himself up in a corner, instead of wriggling [-180-] about like his companions. But as one prod of the bayonet is worth a dozen marchings and counter-marchings (I feel I am quoting Tristram Shandy very badly), we will take a fact. Look at the foreign gentleman in the drawing-room, and ask the ladies of the party their opinion of his desirability.
    While that talented young author, Mr. Fleshbrush (whose hair resembles the useful article from which, perhaps, he took his name), is sniffing the air, and pretending to be abstracted, and imbibing inspiration from the alabaster Ariadne on the mantelpiece - while Mr. Pointercount, the composer, is reclining in a queer attitude on the couch, pestering an old dowager (who is wishing him a dowager's worst wish, and that's not a rose-water curse, I know) with eulogiums on Mendellsohn, because he is dead and unpopular, and abuse of Balfe, because he is living and triumphant - while Mr. de Vellum, really a rising lawyer, is explaining the Rule in Shelley's Case to little Kate Mortimer, who is eighteen and in her first season, and is urging her to say she is engaged when that Guardsman comes to ask her to dance, promising, en revanche, to tell her an anecdote which arose during one of the hearings of "Small v. Attwood" - while Mr. Boke, of Trinity College, Cambridge, is leaving those three. pretty and talkable women, that he may go and tell Mr. Bloke, of St. John's, what he thinks of an article by Mr. Stoke, of Cams, about the second aorist - and while a whole gang of superior beings are stopping up the door, alternately smiling and scowling, but always at nothing, for nobody speaks to them and they speak to nobody - what is the "Foreign Gentleman" about? Making himself agreeable. What else did he come [-181-] there for? One can sniff the air, and sneer at Balfe, and lay down the law, and rehearse the particles of one's belief in Greek, and lounge, and scowl, and smirk, and sulk in fifty fitter places than a drawing-room. Look at M. Alexis de Lannois, that young French gentleman. I select him as a good type of his order; and I select a French gentleman for the obvious reason that every well-regulated English mind firmly believes all foreigners to be Frenchmen, because most foreigners speak French.
    Yes, look at M. De Lannois, young gentlemen of "manly reserve," too proud to behave yourselves properly. Look at him, you affected author. Sir, when you have won your race for reputation, you will regret that you started carrying so many lbs., self-imposed, while he ran his natural weight. Listen to him, dear Pointercount, for he does not know a tenth part as much about music as you do, but has imparted ten times as much information about it. De Vellum, De Vellum, he knows young ladies do not care about law, and would no more think of reading commentaries on the Code Napoleon to his partner than you will of calling your laundress in to listen to your next consultation with Sergeant Talfourd. Boke, M. De Lannois got some kudos for a paper on the inscriptions on the Luxor Obelisk in the Place de la Revolution, and M. De Lamartine spoke of it at the Institut; but Alexis will not leave your pretty cousin there, in order to go and talk about it with that profound-looking Guy in spectacles. I speak to you as to clever men, which you all are, in your various ways - of course, one expects folly from fools.
    M. Alexis de Lannois has danced several times, and [-182-] has sung two songs; one Beranger's, the other out of L'Ame en Peine, the latter apropos of Mr. Charles Braham's debut, of which somebody happened to speak - for Alexis does not come "primed" with certain airs, any more than with certain speeches. He has complimented Pointercount's dowager on her diamonds, and on her sister's good singing; and as the diamonds are false, and her sister is her daughter, the elderly lady is enchanted, and he dines in Berkeley Street on Tuesday - the "sister" is single, and has eleven thousand pounds. He has been introduced to Fleshbrush, and, catching the word "poet" told him how much his charming lyrics are admired in Paris: the work is an epic, but Fleshbrush is so pleased and flurried that he forgets that - nay, believes that somebody has read it. He has spoken to De Vellum, and as Alexis actually remembers seeing his face as he was shown through the Courts of Law, and, moreover, heard part of De Vellum's infliction on Kate Mortimer, begs, in flattering terms, to thank De Vellum for the pleasure he gave him by his brilliant speech the other day. De Vellum is mystified, but recollects having moved that the Court windows should be shut, and that Mr. Justice Maule thanked him for acting as amicus curiae, and supposes that is what De Lannois means - n' importe, the impression is favourable. Then Alexis has scattered about him half-a-dozen jeux de mot of Jules Janin; has told a merry married lady a piquant story about the Duchesse de -; has given an imitation of Rachel, frantically singing Morir pour La Patrie; has promised Pointercount an introduction to Meyerbeer; has explained to De Vellum the real reason why M Cremieux would not let Lord [-183-] Brougham become a Frenchman; and has even sent little Louisa Earnshaw, the niece of the house, to bed perfectly happy, by engaging to call and show her how they blow soap-bubbles, and fill them full of cigar smoke. Finally, he goes away sprinkling a shower of pretty things, and by the time he has turned into Park Lane, everybody is praising him, and he is caring as much about them as - come, you superior beings, be honest  -as much as you care about the people you met at any of your parties last season. It is of no use for you to say, "it's all very hollow "- of course it is, and so are you - but it is very pleasant, and we meet to be pleased; and, after all, the Frenchman's is the glittering hollowness of one of the soap-bubbles he promised Louisa, while yours is the sulky hollowness of an empty cask. 
    Circumstances - Anglicè, sundry English miles - prevent my having the advantage of seeing the sketch which M. Gavarni will prefix to this paper; but I shall be surprised if, with all his proper love of his country, he prove more ready to do his countrymen justice than 


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