Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Twice Round the Clock, or The Hours of the Day and Night in London, by George Augustus Sala, 1859

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    Of the great army of sightseers, there are few but have paid a visit to Portsmouth, and, under the guidance of a mahogany-faced man in a pea-jacket, who has invariably served in his youth as coxswain to Admiral Lord Nelson, K.C.B., have perambulated from stem to Stern, from quarterdeck to kelson, that famous ship from whose signal halyards flew out, fifty-three years since, the immortal watchword "England expects every man to do his duty", in Trafalgar Bay. We are (or rather were, till the epoch of the late passport regulations and the war), an ambitious army of sightseers in this year of questionable grace, '59; and nothing less would serve us then for an autumn [-66-] trip than a picnic in the Street of Tombs at Pompeii, a moonlight polka among the rank docks and charlocks and slimy reptiles of the Roman Colosseum, a yacht voyage up the gulf of Bothnia, or a four days' jolting in a telega from Moscow to the fair of Nishni-Novgorod. But in the days of yore, when this old hat was new, and Manlius was consul, and the eleven hours' route to the Continent existed not, we went a-gipsying in a less ostentatious manner. The Lions in the Tower, the Horns at Highgate, the Spaniards at Harnpstead, the Wandering Minstrel at Beulah Spa; and on highdays and holidays a stage-coach and pleasure-boat journey to Portsmouth, Southampton, Netley Abbey, Carisbrook Castle, and the Undercliff; these filled up the simple measure of our pleasure-gadding. We are improved now- a-days, and go the grand tour like my lord; and are wiser, and better, and happier-of course.
    When in the noble harbour of Portsmouth you have taken your wife, your sweetheart, or your friend the intelligent foreigner, to whom you wish to show the glories of England, and when the cicerone of the great war-ship has told his parrot-tale about admirals' quarter-galleries and officers' gun-rooms; when at last he has taken you into the cabin, and at the back shown you the sorrowful inscription painted on the stanchion, "HERE NELSON DIED!" did never a sudden desire come across you to be left alone-to have the army of sight-seers banished five hundred miles away - to be allowed to remain there in the silent cabin among the shadows, to muse on the memory of the great dead, to conjure up mind-pictures of that closing scene: the cannon booming overhead ; the terrified surgeons with outspread bandages, and probes, and knives, knowing that their skill was of no avail; the burly shipmen crying like little children ; and alone tranquil and serene among that sorrowful group, peaceful as an infant in its cradle, the Admiral, his stars and ribbons gleaming in the lantern's fitful rays, but never with so strong a light as the gory ghastliness of his death wound; the brave yellow-haired Admiral, with the puny limbs and giant's heart, waiting to die, ready to die, happy to die, thanking God that he had done his duty to his king, and meekly saying, " Kiss me, Hardy."
    That inscription in the Victory's cabin has been to me the source of meditation frequent and infinitely pleasant. I love to think, walking in historical streets and houses, that my feet are treading over spots where men for ever famous have left an imprint of glory. I peer into the soil, the stones, the planks, to descry the shadowy [-67-] mark of Hercules' foot, of the iron-plated sole of the warrior, the sandalled shoon of the saint, the dainty heel of the brocaded slipper of beauty. Every place that history or tradition has made her own is to me a find, not of forty, but of forty thousand footsteps; and I please myself sometimes with futile wishes that the boundaries of these footsteps might have been marked by plates of brass and adamant, as Nelson's death-place is marked on board his flagship. It were better, perhaps, to leave the exact spot to imagination; for though I would give something to know the very window of the Banqueting house from whence Charles Stuart came out to his death, and the precise spot where he turned to Juxon and uttered his mysterious injunction "Remember!" I would not care to know the particular branch of the tree to which Judas affixed his thrice-earned halter when he hanged himself: I could spare Mr. Dix the trouble of telling me the identical spot on the tavern table on which the coroner laid his three-cornered hat when he held his inquest on the worthless impostor Chatterton-a "marvellous boy" if you will, but one who perished in his miserable folly and forgery-and I could well exempt the legitimacy-bemused courtiers of Louis XVIII. from perpetuating, as they did in brass, the few inches of soil at Calais first pressed on his return to France by the foot of that gross fat man.
    There are two cities in the world, London and Paris, so full of these footstep memories, so haunted by impalpable ghosts of the traces of famous deeds, that locomotion, to one of my temperament, becomes a task very slow, if not painfully difficult, of accomplishment. Tis a long way from the Luxor Obelisk to the Carrousel; but it's a week's journey when you feel inclined to stop at every half-dozen yards' distance, questioning yourself and the ministering spirits of your books, pointing your fingers to the paving-stones, and saying- Here the guillotine stood; here Louis died; here the daughter of Maria Theresa cast her last glance at the cupolas of the Tuileries; here Robespierre was hooted; here Theroigne de Méricourt was scourged; here Napoleon the Great showed the little king of Rome to the people; here, on the great Carrousel Place, he, arrayed in the undying gray coat and little hat, reviewed the veterans of his guard, many and many a time at EIGHT O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING.
    There! I have brought you round to the subject-matter of this article, and to the complexion of "Twice Round the Clock" again; [-68-]


[-69-] and the stroke is, I flatter myself, felicitous-rivalling Escobar or Dom Calmet in Jesuitry, Metternich and Menschikoff in diplomacy. You thought doubtless that I was about to launch into an interminable digression; you may perhaps have said, scoffingly, that Admiral Lord Nelson, K.C.B., Maximillien Robespierre, Charles the First's head, and the Emperor Napoleon's cocked hat, could have nothing whatsoever to do with the Mall of Saint James's Park at eight o'clock in the morning. You are mistaken. The allusions to memorable footsteps were all cunningly devised with a reference to the great Field of Famous Footsteps-the Mall, which, were the imprint of those bygone pedal pressures marked out with landmarks, such as those in the Victory's cabin, would become a very Field of the Cloth of Brass. And what better time can there be to muse upon the traditional glories of the Mall and the fame of its frequenters, than eight a.m. in sweet summer time?
    I grant the clown, the dunderheaded money-spinner who votes that books are "rubbish," the cobweb-brained fop who languidly declares reading to be a "bore," will find in the broad smooth Mall, just a Mall, broad and smooth, and nought else - even as Peter Bell found in a primrose by the river's brim a yellow primrose, and nothing more. At eight o'clock in the morning, to clown, dunderhead, and cobweb-brain, the Mall is a short cut from Marylebone to Westmninster; the water-carts are laying the dust; mechanics are going to work; there are some government offices in the distance; two big guns on queer-looking carriages; some scattered children ;a good many birds, making rather a disagreeable noise, in the green trees; and a few cows being milked in a corner. But come with me, dweller in time past, lover of ancient and pleasant memories, hand-and-glove friend of defunct worthies, shadowy acquaintances in ruffs and peaked beards and point lace. Let us deliver dunderhead and cobweb-brain to the tormentors, and, sitting on a rustic bench beneath a spreading tree, summon the Famous Footsteps; summon the dead-and-gone walkers to pace the Mall again. here they come! a brave gathering, a courtly throng, a worshipful assemblage, but oft-times a motley horde and a fantastic crew. Here is Henry the Eighth's Mall, a park where that disreputable monarch indulged in "the games of hare and pheasant, partridge and heron, for his disport and pastime," and where he had a deer killed for the amusement of the "Embassador from Muscovie." Here is Saint James's Park in the reign of clever, shrewish, cruel Queen Bess - a park only used as an appendage to [-70-] the tilt-yard and a nursery for deer; here is the "inward park" (now the inclosure and ornamental water), into which, so late as the commencement of Charles II's reign, access to the public was denied; and where, in 1660, Master Pepy's saw a man "basted" by the keeper for carrying some people over on his back through the water. Here is Charles II.'s famous Mall, for the first time broad and smooth, the park planted and reformed by the celebrated French gardener, Le Nôtre, laid out with fish-ponds and a decoy for water-fowl; the Mall itself a vista of half a mile in length, on which the game of Pall Mall was played, and which, always according to curious Samuel Pepys, who "discoursed with the keeper of the Pall Mall as he was sweeping it," was floored with mixed earth, and over all that cockle-shells, powdered and spread to keep it fast; which, however, in dry weather, turned to dust and deadened the ball. In this park of Charles II. was the fantastic little territory of Duck Island, the ground contained within the channels of the decoy, and which London Barataria had revenues and laws and governors appointed by the king. The Duke of Saint Simon's friend, Saint Evremond, was one of these governors; Sir John Flock another. Close to Duck Island was Rosamond's Pond, a piece of water whose name bore a dim analogy to the soubriquet with which, in later years, Waterloo Bridge has been qualified; for it was in Rosamond's Pond that forsaken women came in preference, at even-song, to drown themselves. There was the Birdcage Walk, where Mr. Edward Storey kept his Majesty's aviary, and dwelt in the snug little hut recently demolished, known as Storey's Gate. There was the Mulberry Garden, into which the river Tyburn flows, and so into Tothill Fields and the Thames; and there was Spring Gardens, where the beaux went to look at the citizens' wives; and the citizens' wives, I hope, to drink chocolate, but I fear to look at the beaux.
    But the famous footsteps? See, see in your mind's eye, Horatio, how the shadows of the old frequenters of the Mall come trooping along. Here is the founder of the feast himself, King Charles the Second, witty, worthless, and good-humoured, tramping along the broad expanse at eight o'clock in the morning, to the despair of his courtiers, who liked not walking so fast, nor getting up so early. You can't mistake the king's figure; tis that swarthy gentleman, with the harshly-marked countenance, the bushy eyebrows, the lively kindling gray eye, and the black suit and perriwig. He walks a little in advance of his suite with an easy, rapid gait, and at his heels follow a [-71-] little barking multitude of dogs, black, black and white, or black and tan, with long silky ears and feathery tails. We may see him again, and on the Mall, but not at eight o'clock in the morning. It is the afternoon of a July day, and a court cavalcade comes flaunting in feathers forth from Whitehall. here is King Charles, but in a laced and embroidered suit, and mounted on a gailv-caparisoned charger. He rides with his hand in that of a lady, in a white laced waistcoat and crimson petticoat, and who, the chroniclers say, with her hair dressed d la negligence, "looks mighty pretty," but she is very dark, and not very well favoured, and is a poor Portuguese lady who has the misfortune to be Queen of England, and to have the merriest and the worst husband in Europe. Here is La Belle Stuart, with her hat cocked, and a red plume, looking, with her sweet eye, little Roman nose, and excellent taille, the greatest beauty that the Clerk of the Acts ever did see in his life. Here is Lady Castlemaine, with a yellow plume, but in a terrible temper that the king does not take any notice of her, and in a rage when she finds that no gentleman presses to assist her down from her horse. Here is "our royal brother," James Duke of York, scowling and sulky, on his way through the Park to Hounslow, to enjoy his prime diversion of the chase, and escorted by a party of the guards in morions and steel corslets. Memory be good to us! how the shadows gather around! his highness Oliver, Lord Protector of this realm, is being borne along the Mall in a sedan chair. He crouches uneasily in a corner of the gilded vehicle, as though he feared that Colonel Titus might be lying perdu under the linden trees, correcting the proof sheets of " Killing no Murder." Sir Fopling Flutter bids his coachman take the carriage to Whitehall, and walks over the park with Belinda. Now, years later, it is Jonathan Swift leaving his best gown and perriwig at Mrs. Vanhomrigh's, then walking up the Mall, by Buckingham house, and so to Chelsea. It is not a very well-conducted Mall just now, and Swift tells Stella that he is obliged to come home early through the park, to avoid the Mohocks. Now, back again, and to walk with decorous Mr. Evelyn, who is much shocked to see Kelly Gwynne leaning over her garden wall (overhanging the park),-she lived at 79, Pall Mall-and indulging in familiar discourse with "Old Rowley." Now we are in Horace Walpole's time, and the macaroni-cynic of Strawberry Hill is gallanting in the Mall with Lady Caroline Petersham, and pretty Miss Beauclerc, and foolish Mrs. Sparre. Now Lady Coventry and Walpole's niece, Lady Waldegrave, are mobbed in the park for being dressed in an "outland-[-72-]ish" fashion. Now, back and back again; and the Duchess of Cleveland is walking across the Mall on a dark night, pursued by three men in masks, who offer her no violence, but curse her as the cause of England's misery, and prophesy that she will one day die in a ditch, like Jane Shore. Forward, hark forward, and mad Margaret Nicholson attempts the life of George III., as he passes in his coach through the Mall to open Parliament. Backward, and James II. walks across the park from St. James's, where he had slept, to Whitehall, to be crowned. A very few years after his coronation, the Dutch Guards of William Prince of Orange marched across from St. James's to turn the unlucky Stuart out of Whitehall. And now, backwards and forwards, and forwards and backwards, the fatuous shadows mingle in a fantastic reel, a mad waltz of extinct footsteps. Sir Roger de Coverley and Mr. Spectator saunter under the limes; Beau Fielding minces by the side of Margaretta; Beau Tibbs airs his clean linen and lackered sword hilt; Mr. Pope meets Lady Mary's sedan, borne by Irish chairmen-the translator of the "Iliad" grins spitefully over his shoulder and makes faces at Lady Mary's black boy; Sir Plume instructs Sir John Burke in the nice conduct of a clouded cane; Goldsmith's good- natured man fraternises with Coleman's "brother who could eat beef;" Lord Fanny takes off his three-cornered hat to Mr. Moore, the inventor of the worm powders; Partridge, the almanack maker, discusses the motions of the heavenly bodies on the banks of Rosamond's Pond with Count Algarotti, and becomes so excited that he nearly adds "one more unfortunate to the list of Ophelias in Rosamond's Pond, by tumbling into the water; Alfieri meets Lord Ligonier - tells him time measure of his sword, and makes a rendezvous with him for sunset in Hyde Park; Lord George Gordon passes Westminster to St. James's, followed by a mob of yelling, screaming Protestants. Real people dispute the passage of the Mall with imaginary personages. The encampment of Eighty, the Temple of Concord, and the Humane Society's drags, are inextricably mixed up with scenes from Wycherley and Etherege; and pet passages from the "Trivia" and the "Rape of the Lock." I must bring myself back to reason and St. James's Park, and eight o'clock in the morning. I must deal henceforth in realities. here is one.
    It is the morning of the 30th of January, 1649, and a King of England walks across the frozen park, from St. James's, where he has slept, to Whitehall, the palace of his fathers. Armed men walls before, armed men walk behind and around; but they are no guards of honour. [-73-] They escort a prisoner to the scaffold. The High Court of Justice has adjudged Charles Stuart, King of England, a traitor, and has decreed that he shall be put to death by severing his head from his body. President Bradshaw has put off his red robe, the man without a name has put on his black mask; the axe is sharpened, the sawdust spread, the block prepared, the velvet-covered coffin yawns; on its lid is already the leaden plate with the inscription, " King Charles, 1649."
    It is not my fault, dear reader, if the spot which your author and artist to command have selected for illustration of the eighth hour ante-meridian, be so rich in historical and literary recollections; that we may fancy every inch of its surface trodden and re-trodden till the very soil has sunk, by the feet of the departed great; that the student, and the lover of old lore, must arrest himself perforce at every tree, and evoke remembrance at every pace. And centuries hence the Mall of St. James's Park will be as famous to our descendants for our deeds as it is now to us for the presence of our ancestors. Is not the Mall yet one of the most favoured resorts of the British aristocracy? Do not the carriages of the nobility and gentry rattle over its broad bosom to dinner parties, to opera, to concerts, and to balls? We have seen their chariot lamps a hundred times-we humble pedestrians and plebeians-gleaming among the tufted trees, wills-o'-the-wisp of Belgravia and Tyburnia. Is not St. James's Park bounded now as then by high and mighty buildings War Office, Admiralty, Stationery Office, Barracks? Do not the Duke of York's steps lead from the Duke of York's column, between two corps de logis, one occupied by wings - ethereal wings, though made of brick and stucco, of the House of Carlton, the abode of George the Great (the great Fritz was called "der grosse") of England? And the Mall itself? Is it not overlooked by Stafford House, the palatial; by Marlborough House, the vast and roomy, once sacred to the memory of the victor of Ramilies and of "Old Sarah!" but now given up to some people called artists, connected with something called the English school, and partially used as a livery and bait stable for the late Duke of Wellington's funeral car, with its sham trophies and sham horses? Does not a scion of royalty, no other than his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, frequently condescend to walk from his lodgings in the Stable-yard, Saint James's, across the park to those horse Guards, whose affairs he administers with so much ability and success? And, finally, at the western extremity of the Mall, and on the side where once was the Mulberry Garden, stands there not now a palace, huge in size, clumsy in its pro-[-74-]portions, grotesque in decoration, mean in gross, frivolous in detail, infinitely hideous in its general appearance, but above whose ugly roof floats that grandest and noblest of all banners, the Royal Standard of England, and whose walls, half hospital, half barrack, as they remind us of, are hallowed as being part of Buckingham Palace, the abode of our good, and true, and dear Queen? She lives at the top of the Mall. She comes out by times on the Mall, in her golden coach, with the eight cream-coloured horses; her darling little daughter passed along the Mall to be married; let us hope, and heartily, to see more sons and daughters yet riding to their weddings through that field of famous footsteps. Let us hope that we may live to throw up our caps, and cry God bless them!
    Great lords and ladies sweep the Mall no more with hoops and flowing trains of brocaded paduasoy, nor jingle on the gravel with silver spurs, nor crunch the minute pebbles with red heels. Broughams and chariots now convey the salt ones of the earth to their grand assemblies and solemn merry-makings; and the few aristocrats who may yet pedestrianise within the precincts, are so plainly attired that you would find it difficult to distinguish them from plain Brown or Jones walking from Pimlico to Charing Cross. His Royal Highness strides over from the Stable-yard to the Horse Guards in a shooting-jacket and tweed trousers, and in wet weather carries an umbrella. Nay, I have seen another Royal Highness - a bigger Royal Highness, so to speak, for he is consort to the Queen - riding under the trees of the Mall on a quiet bay, and dressed in anything but the first style of fashion. Were it not scandalum magnatum even to think such a thing, I should say that his Royal Highness's coat was seedy.
    At this early eight o'clock in the morningtide, see - an exception to the rule, however - perambulating the Mall, a tremendous "swell." No fictitious aristocrat, no cheap dandy, no Whitechapel buck or Bermondsey exquisite, no apprentice who has been to a masquerade disguised as a gentleman, can this be. Aristocracy is imprinted on every lineament of his moustached face, in every crease of his superb clothes, in each particular horsehair of his flowing plume. He is a magnificent creature, over six feet in height, with a burnished helmet, burnished boots, burnished spurs, burnished sabre, burnished cuirass - burnished whiskers and moustache. He shines all over, like a meteor, or a lobster which has been kept a little too long, in a dark room. He is young, brave, handsome, and generous; he is the [-75-] delight of Eaton Square, the cynosure of the Castor and Pollux Club, the idol of the corps de ballet of her Majesty's Theatre, the pet of several most exclusive Puseyite circles in Tyburnia, the mirror of Tattersall's, the pillar and patron of Jem Bundy's ratting, dog-showing, man- fighting, horse-racing, and general sporting house, in Cat and Fiddle Court, Dog and Duck Lane, Cripplegate. Cruel country, cruel fate, that compel Lieutenant Algernon Percy Plantagenet, of the Royal Life Guards, the handsomest man in Isis regiment, and heir to £9,000 a year, to be mounting guard at eight o'clock in the morning! He is mounting guard at present by smoking a cigar (one of Milo's best) on the Mall. By and by he will go into his barrack-room and draw caricatures in charcoal on the whitewashed wall. He will smoke a good deal, yawn a good deal, and whistle a good deal during the day, and will give a few words of command. For you see, my son, that we must all earn our bread by the sweat of our brow, and that the career even of a Plantagenet, with £9,000 a year, is not, throughout, a highway of rose-leaves!
    From this gay and resplendent warrior, we fall, alas ! to a very prosaic level. As eight o'clock chimes from the smoky-faced clock of the Horse Guards, I try in vain (I have dismissed my shadowy friends) to people the Mall with aristocratic visitants. Alas and indeed! the magnificent promenade of the park, on which look the stately mansions of the nobles, is pervaded by figures very mean, very poor and forlorn in appearance. Little troops of girls and young women are coming from the direction of Buckingham Palace and the Birdcage Walk, but all converging towards the Duke of York's column: that beacon to the great shores of Vanity Fair. These are sempstresses and milliners' workwomen, and are bound for the great Dress Factories of the West End. Pinched faces, pale faces, eager faces, sullen faces, peer from under the bonnets as they pass along and up the steps. There are faces with large mild eyes - that seem to wonder at the world and at its strange doings, and at the existence of a Necessity (it must be a Necessity, you know), for Jane or Ellen to work twelve hours a day; nay, in the full London season, work at her needle not unfrequently all night, in order that the Countess or the Marchioness may have her ball dress ready.
    There is another ceremony performed with much clattering solemnity of wooden panels, and iron bars, and stanchions, which occurs at eight o'clock in the morning.  Tis then that the shop-shutters are [-76-]


[-77-] taken down. The great "stores" and "magazines" of the principal thoroughfares gradually open their eyes; apprentices, light-porters, and where the staff of assistants is not very numerous, the shopmen, release the imprisoned wares, and bid the sun shine on good family souchong, "fresh Epping sausages," "Beaufort collars," "guinea capes," "Eureka shirts," and "Alexandre harmoniums." In the smaller throughfares, the proprietor often dispenses with the aid of apprentice, light-porter, and shopman - for the simple reason that he never possessed the services of any assistants at all - and unostentatiously takes down the shutters of his own chandler's, green-grocer's, tripe, or small stationery shop. In the magnificent linendrapery establishments of Oxford and Regent Streets, the vast shop-fronts, museums of fashion in plate-glass cases, offer a series of animated tableaux of poses plastiques in the shape of young ladies in morning costume, and young gentlemen in whiskers and white neckcloths, faultlessly complete as to costume, with the exception that they are yet in their shirt sleeves, who are accomplishing the difficult and mysterious feat known as "dressing" the shop window. By their nimble and practised hands the rich piled velvet mantles are displayed, the moire and glacé silks arranged in artful folds, the laces and gauzes, the innumerable whim-whams and fribble-frabble of fashion, elaborately shown, and to their best advantage.
    Now, all over London, the shops start into new life. Butchers and bakers, and candlestick makers, grocers and cheesemongers, and pastrycooks, tailors, linendrapers, and milliners, crop up with mushroom-like rapidity. But I must leave them, to revisit them in all their glory a few hours later. Leave, too, the Park and its Mall, with the cows giving milk of a decidedly metropolitan flavour, and the children and the nursemaids, and the dilapidated dramatic authors reading the manuscripts of their five-act tragedies to themselves, and occasionally reciting favourite passages in deep diapason on the benches under the trees. Leave, too, the London sparrows, and - would that we could leave it altogether - the London smoke, which already begins to curl over and cover up the city like a blanket, and which will not keep clear of the Mall, even at eight o'clock in the morning.

[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]

source: George August Sala, Twice Round the Clock, 1859