IN THE SEASON
Indeed, a good, a thorough, day in the Season; means hard work. The early canter, when the pale emerald glories of the spring foliage, and the misty blue of the sky, make a cool, invigorating morning; disposes the weariest for breakfast, the morning papers, and the inevitable pile of letters.
How shall we spend the morning? My fellow Pilgrim declares for the park again: for a lazy cigar, and a study of Fashion riding or walking hard, in the bracing air, to get over the fatigues of yesterday.
"This is London: this, and the East End."
The high-bred, delicate, rose-tinted beauty of women and children; the courage and comeliness of the amazons; the calm, solid air of their cavaliers; the perfect horses; the severe simplicity and perfect appointments of the liveried attendants; the genial air of quiet strength and grace which is upon all the scene, are strange to the mind of the habitue acute; of the Bois de Boulogne under the Second Empire. He returns to the Park again and again; is never tired of the stateliness of Kensington Gardens, with the rosy children, haughty-dames, and demure nurses under the noble trees; and will have his afternoon turn along the Ladies' Mile, let his engagements be what they may.
"Let us have an hour in the Royal Academy, before lunch: we shall see some types of true British beauty", is the second suggestion of the day. "As many as I saw last night at Holland House." Be it so. And here, in their morning freshness, we find troops of the partners of last evening. Perhaps they look at their best in their early toilettes; and with their homelier expression. We drop in at Christie's and find other types: the old connoisseurs; political celebrities dowagers of severe features pronouncing learnedly on china; a bishop or two; and artists and critics, and reporters and porters.
Indeed, Christie's has become a fashionable London institution, in which, when the representatives of a Gillott are selling treasures, the visitor may see, in a few mornings, all that is brilliant and distinguished in English society.
The Thatched House, more hospitable than their high mightinesses of Pall Mall, give you a good luncheon. The Pilgrim tires of Verey's, and the Burlington, and the Pall Mall; even of the St. James's when under the dainty care of Francatelli. After an hour in the venerable Abbey, filled with a splendid wedding party, lunch, a little laziness, and a little letter-writing, bring s to the hour for calls; to a fancy bazaar; to a garden party; to a talk and tea in the charming grounds of Lambeth Palace, of which the old Lollard's Tower is packed with laughing girls; to Fulham and the green banks of our beloved river, with old Putney Church, and the quaint wooden bridge for background; or to a dancing, flirting, or argumentative tea!
And the day is far away still from its close!
We are at the point of the great solemnity of the day, dinner. Dinner, encompassed with ancient pomp and circumstance, as when the Goldsmiths of London invite; or light and lively, as at Greenwich or Richmond.
In England it is an institution, whether, Sidiney's copse To crown thy open table, doth provide The purpled pheasant with the speckled side, or the plainest fare be your fate. We are told that the celebrated Mrs. Howard (Lady Suffolk) sold her own beautiful tresses to enable her husband, then in very narrow circumstances, to give "a dinner of policy to a great man." And what was the wifely boast of Lady Hardwicke, wife of the Lord Chancellor? That "uncertain as was the time of the Lord Chancellor's dining, and the company that would attend him, yet if it should happen that he brought with him an ambassador,
a person of the highest rank, he never found a dinner or a supper to be ashamed of." A great American authority writes: "In all fashionable life, whether in London, Paris, Madrid, Vienna, Washington, or New York, this meal is the one above all others, to which is invited the distinguished stranger, or the beloved friend. To this meal, kings and nobles, knights and squires, laymen and priests, have each and all attached a high importance. 'How shall we dine to-day?' is the first though' in every rank of life, and of human beings everywhere." It is not the meal at which people eat, but at which they criticise eating: and talk the day over. Mrs. Stowe said of her gastronomic experience at the Duchess of Sutherland's: "At lunch, everything, is placed upon, the table at once, and ladies sit down without removing their hats:" it is true they eat-as we ate some hours ago at the club.
But this is not my fellow Pilgrim's habit; and he is carrying a robust appetite whither we are bound, to a "man's dinner" of notable political leaders, at Greenwich.
A few shades of opinion meet at a handsome table; for a quiet, overelaborated dinner. Mostly members of Parliament. A few Radical outsiders, too powerful not to be asked. Easy conversation: no ladies. The Session is about to open. It is agreed that during the sitting of Parliament no man (man meaning only a member of the House of Commons) should live farther away from St. Stephen's than Richmond. Parkyns does it is. true, but then Parkyns has a good night's rest in the cabins before he goes home. "Yes, he and Macpherson, who regularly turns in, and curls himself up." Macpherson represents a State Department in the House.
Will the dining be improved? Between four and six you can dine well: after that you must wait late. Dining-room, a horrible place, but no hope of altering it now. Not a crumb to be had: nor a glass of sherry without paying for it. A secretary to a Minister of State must pay for his sandwiches: and no credit. Lowe keeps a vigilant eye upon the sandwich boxes. One of the radicals observes that he is glad to see propriety and order making their way even into Downing-street. A Liberal member, who thinks his Liberalism the best joke in the world, is excessively amusing at the expense of the democratic principles which, glancing at the diamonds upon his bosom, he admits must be professed to a certain extent in public, in these days.
By the way, has anybody ever noticed Smug's diamonds? Diamonds in the day-time! The splendid Liberal has not missed, them, size of half a crown-and in a frilled shirt front. Can human depravity, outmatch this! The laugh is general, as why should it not be, over Smug who swept his own office once, and is no Liberal pour rire. The splendid Liberal opines that his friend the Metropolitan member will have a hard time of it, living in the midst, of his constituents. No: the Metropolitan is very seldom at home. How is the working man, as member, to be dealt with?
The Minister's secretary dabs his moustache after the salmi and jerks out, " No chance: no chance." A Radical who is amusingly in earnest, declares that in that case a compromise must be made. An arrangement must be come to, by which the Whigs and Tories will undertake not to oppose working-men candidates in a given number of places.
The splendid Liberal is entranced with the innocence of the proposal. What! agree to a certain number of poor boroughs, poor boroughs, that are to taste none of the sweets of an election. Find the places ready for the martyrdom! The Radical would be angry, if he dared, and mutters that " we" mean what we profess. The retort is "Bright and adulteration, his eloquence on the virtues of sand in sugar," &c.
And so the conversation wanders to Bright, who is unanimously voted a marvellous speaker. Pity Gladstone doesn't take a few more notes, to keep him, steadily in the grooves of his subject. Look at Bright's notes in that neat little hand of his, the, speech. is almost written: the peroration always is, like Dizzy's.
"He's nearly finished," is a Liberal member's suggestion. The splendid Liberal thinks so too, but is Hardy strong enough for the place. After that last exhibition, when he looked as if he would tumble under the table, and it would have been best for him if he had, it was all up, the Minister's secretary thought: and, he thinking it, it was all up. Did the splendid Liberal notice Gladstone picking up the paper, and tearing it into bits, that always means mischief. And so on to coffee, and a cigar; and a lighter talk, as for instance of the origin of the Ministerial Whitebait dinner, which is interesting. But we note by the way that it was on the borders of Dagenham Lake, by Erith, the Ministerial Whitebait dinner took its rise.
When Sir Robert Preston, M.P. for Devon, invited his friend George Rose, Secretary to the Treasury, to dine with him at his snug fishery by the banks of the lake, towards the close of a Parliamentary Session; he had little idea that he was germinating a little historical fact, and leading up to sundry fortunes within the shadow of Chelsea Hospital, and opening up a new industry to Blackwall, that had merely then the sea-going monopoly of the Indies. It was in Pitt's time. The invitation produced a happy meeting we are bound to believe, since Preston and Rose, in the warmth of their cordiality, or in the remembrance of it, proposed that a fishery "dinner" should again celebrate the close of a year's Parliamentary labours.
"What if we have Pitt!" was the idea that struck the friends. Pitt was a clubbable man. The second party, with Pitt to break the tete a tete was, need it be said? a success. Pitt was so delighted with the shores and the fare of Dagenham, that he proposed to repeat the convivial experiment. On the third occasion the pleasantness of the parties having got wind, drew a larger party: and a third time delighted visitors returned from Dagenham to London. The casual invitation from Preston to Rose to eat fish in his Dagenham snuggery, led to Pitt; and Pitt, not averse to a convivial turn in political affairs, suggested a practical and sensible change. Dagenham was just a little too far. The whereabouts of future fish-eatings commemorative of the Parliamentary Session's close, was discussed; and Greenwich was chosen, albeit the minute multitudinous pieces de resistance of the feast came from Gravesend. And thus the Ministerial Whitebait dinner has become a national institution, passing between the Ship and the Trafalgar, with the changes of Ministry.
It has been observed that the worst of a dinner-table is that you must leave it. And you must leave it early, and be very discreet at it, if you would be welcome first at the soiree of the learned Society: then at the Deanery; then at the Opera: and lastly as you look in at a ball or two, before you go home in the palest hour of the morning; when the sweep, the early London riser, is the only creature at work.