[-back to menu for this book-]
TRAVELS IN REGENT STREET
I WISH that Mr. Percy Fitzgerald, or some equally industrious
and appreciative commentator on what may be termed "the London of Charles
Dickens" would devote a special chapter to Regent Street in connection with
the frequent mention made of that unique thoroughfare in the writings of the
illustrious novelist. It may be that the task which I suggest has been already
accomplished; but if such be the case, it has escaped my notice. I have very
little time to read new books, and not half time enough to read old ones.
So far as my memory serves me, there is no allusion whatsoever to Regent Street in Pickwick; but Nicholas Nickleby is absolutely redolent of the street in question and its immediate vicinity. Ralph Nickleby lived in Golden Square; and the interesting family of the Kenwigses, with Newman Noggs and the selfish Mr. Crowl, resided in what Dickens calls "a bygone, faded, tumble-down street, with two irregular rows of tall meagre houses" close to the Square. The millinery [-214-] and dressmaking establishment of Madame Mantalini, if not actually in Regent Street, was as nigh to that thoroughfare as it was to Cavendish Square; but it was in Regent Street itself that Lord Frederick Verisopht and Sir Mulberry Hawk occupied apartments, and sat down to breakfast at three o'clock in the afternoon, after a riotous night spent, possibly, at the "Pie," or at "Bob Croft's," in the Haymarket.
I have a peculiar partiality for the Regent Street of Dickens's early novels, for the reason, probably, that as a child I was living there, off and on, between 1836 and 1841 ; and that, again, as a big boy, I resided there in 1845. In the first year mentioned, we lived high up the street nearly opposite Verrey's, then, as now, a first-rate café and restaurant. Later, we were tenants of a first floor over a great drapery establishment, Hitchcock's by name - on the site of whose premises is now the emporium of Messrs. Nicol, merchant tailors, of "registered paletôt" renown. Then we occupied a first floor at a stationer's shop opposite Swan and Edgar's; and at the stationer's I remember seeing the first batch of cheap postage stamps that were issued. Finally, my latest remembrance of Regent Street as a dwelling-place is in association with an entresol, in which we lived for a short time at the time of the railway mania. The proprietor of the shop beneath was an old gentleman named Tucker, who was a naturalist and bird-stuffer; and, with the exception of the bedrooms occupied by himself and his daughter and servant at the top of the [-215-] house, and our own entresol, I should say that every apartment and every nook and cranny in that Regent Street messuage and tenement were crowded as full as they could hold with the skins of birds awaiting their turn to be stuffed. The ostriches and roes, the dodos and moas, were kept, I suppose, in the cellar.
But it is to Dickens's Regent Street that my mind most frequently reverts. Although Ralph Nickleby, and Sir Mulberry Hawk, the Kenwigses and Newman Noggs may all be imaginary characters, I can remember hearing of real flesh-and-blood usurers, and titled dandies, and profligate baronets of the period, who might well have sat to Dickens for their portraits. My mother knew very well a youthful gentleman-about-town, who was the very "fetch" or "double" of Lord Frederick Verisopht; and all the episodes of West-End life which Dickens has sketched with such wonderfully graphic force - Madame Mantalini's show-room, Golden Square, and the slums round about it, and especially the bearded, swarthy foreigners who used to hang about the Opera Colonnade and the Opera Box office late in the afternoon in the season, all remind me of once living types familiar to me in my childhood. By the way, touching those same swarthy, bearded, foreign saunterers, I should like the fortunate possessors of first editions of Dickens to tell me whether there has not been a slight alteration in the text of the later issues.
It is a sufficiently curious circumstance that until [-216-] quite lately it happened that, save a pirated American copy of Oliver Twist, with George Cruikshank's etchings vilely forged, which I picked up many years ago in New York, I did not possess a single volume of Dickens's works; but having occasion to verify some imperfectly remembered passage in Little Dorrit, not for my own use, but for that of one of my numerous correspondents, and knowing that there are Dickensians who are as exactly versed in every line of the author's text as Shakespearians are in that of the Bard of All Time, I thought that it would be best to avoid being hauled over the coals for inaccuracy, if I were to supplement my library at Brighton by a complete set of Dickens. So, before replying to my unknown correspondent, I sent for the series in seventeen volumes; the edition which has an Imperial crown on the cover.
In Chapter the Second of Nickleby I read that "the dark-complexioned men who wear large rings and heavy watch-guards and bushy whiskers, and who congregate under the Opera Colonnade and about the box office in the season between four and five in the afternoon, when they give away the orders," all live in Golden Square or within a street of it. It would be as well if the scholiasts on Dickens carefully noted the whole of this paragraph, since, in a few weeks' time, there will be no Opera Colonnade in existence at all. But it is in another part of this passage that I am interested. Trusting entirely to my memory, I think that there were, about 1836, two opera-box offices, one under the Colonnade, and the other at the south-eastern corner of [-217-] a little street - I should say Carlton Street, - the darkling shops on one side of which were shrouded by a colonnade leading to St. Alban's Place. This second box office, which was also a print-shop and a music warehouse, was kept by a then very well-known London tradesman called Nugent; and what I am anxious that the owners of first editions of Dickens should tell me is, whether the original text does not run, "Between four and five in the afternoon, when Mr. Nugent gives away the orders." If I am right, it would be curious to ascertain why Mr. Nugent's name fell out, or whether it was purposely excised from the text?
From that which I have hinted at the head of this chapter, it will be sufficiently plain to my readers that I have known Regent Street at its brightest on a great many afternoons during a great many years. Whenever I go to town I do not fail to have a peep at Regent Street, the beloved, and usually find it, at 4 P.M., as bright as ever, whether in or out of the fashionable season. The "Rue de la Paix of London" was densely crowded on my last visit in August, and shopping seemed to be going on in the briskest way imaginable. When I got back to London-super-Mare, I fell into a brown study about Regent Street, and began to consult a book bearing very closely on Nash's architectural masterpiece; but the volume, the pages of which I was very carefully conning, was neither Cassell's Old and New London, nor Wheatley's extension of Peter Cunningham's Handbook. Upon my word, it was Kelly's Post-Office London Directory, for the year 1894; and what would not I have given for a copy [-218-] of the Great Red Book for 1836, in order that I might find therein a schedule of the shops which flourished in Regent Street four-and-fifty years ago!
As it is, running my eye up and down the seven columns devoted to Regent Street in the "Up-to-Date" Directory, it strikes me that in 1836-37 Howell and James's were flourishing as silk mercers and jewellers. St. Philip's Church, of course, stands where it stood in my boyhood; but York House, which I first remember as a residential mansion, called Club Chambers, is now the Junior Army and Navy Stores. Capper and Waters, shirtmakers ?-Yes, I fancy, were Regent Street acquaintances of my childhood. Swan and Edgar, of course, belonged to my remotest past. The great firm is now converted into a Limited Company; but I remember when there was a real Swan and a real Edgar, who enjoyed well-deserved consideration for the liberality with which they treated their employés, male and female; and I have a distinct remembrance of hearing one summer evening, when all the windows were open, the enthusiastic cheering issuing from an apartment over the way, after a dinner at which the firm had entertained their assistants. Sandland and Crane, hosiers, very ancient acquaintances. Gaffin and Co., sculptors, close to Air Street. Yes ; there was a sculpture gallery here in 1836-37, but I think the then proprietor had an Italian name, and the stock-in-trade was mainly composed of alabaster statuettes and vases. I mind the place well, for gazing one day at the statuary in the window, in company with a beloved sister, there [-219-] came up to us a friend of the family, one Mr. Thomas Fitzherbert, who told us that William IV. was dead.
Field and Co., booksellers and stationers. My mind runneth not to the contrary of there being such a shop at the north-east corner of Air Street, next to the sculpture gallery. I knew the original Field personally. St. James's Hall and Restaurant are comparatively modern acquaintances, but Charles Godfrey Hall, Pannuscorium boot and shoe repository, has been known to me very many years; although I am unable precisely to associate the name with the Regent Street of Dickens. At the corner of Vigo Street there used to be in Nickleby days a great hatter's shop, kept by a Mr. Johnson. The hatter's which has now given place to some other magasin is deeply cut in my tablets of memories, inasmuch as Mrs. Johnson, wife of the proprietor of the warehouse at the corner of Vigo Street, kept a school in Golden Square, at which my sister was a weekly boarder. On the other side of Vigo Street, the Scotch warehouse of Scott and Aidie has been there, under some North British name or another, ever since I can remember anything.
I am not so certain about Farmer and Rogers', the Indian warehouse; although the firm are, I should say, ancient denizens of the street; but five decades ago the Indian warehouse of my predilection was Holmes's, much farther up towards Oxford Street. At Holmes's nothing was sold but Cashmere shawls of the most expensive kinds, and with these shawls the shop window was most picturesquely draped; the only other decora-[-220-]tion being a huge vase of Oriental porcelain, standing perhaps some four feet and a half high. I have in my entrance hall precisely such a vase. I bought it many years ago, slightly cracked, as a "bargain," and when I look upon it I never fail to associate it with Holmes's great Cashmere shawl shop in Regent Street. Does anybody give a hundred and fifty guineas for a Cashmere shawl nowadays; do any ladies up to date wear a Cashmere, unless, indeed, they are fortunate recipients of the shawls which Her Majesty receives as an annual tribute from the Rajah of Cashmere, and graciously confers at fashionable weddings on brides whom she delights to honour?
A. Newman and Co., job and postmasters. I know nothing about the prevent firm, but Newman's in the days of William IV. I knew very well. We lived opposite; and from an upper window one morning, I saw depart from Newman's a yellow post-chaise drawn by two grey horses. There were two gentlemen in the chaise, one of whom carried a shallow oblong case covered with dark shagreen. That post-chaise had nothing to do with an elopement, or a wedding breakfast, or a setting forth on a honeymoon-it was a chariot of death. I learned afterwards that the two gentlemen drove from Regent Street to Wimbledon, there to meet three other gentlemen, one of whom belonged to the medical profession. The panty, in fact, consisted of two principals, two seconds, and a surgeon; and a duel was fought, and one of the gentlemen who had left Newman's that morning in the post-chaise was shot to death.
[-221-] How many years, I wonder, has Duvelleroy's fan warehouse flourished in Regent Street, at the corner of New Burlington Street? I have no memory of the time when this portion of the thoroughfare was without its emporium of highly artistic fans; but the existing M. Jules Duvelleroy must be the son or the grandson of the ingenious French fan manufacturer, who established in London a branch of his Paris business. In the Passage des Panoramas, hard by the Rue Vivienne, there is a Duvelleroy, in whose windows, long years ago, I have often admiringly gazed at fans painted by such renowned artists as Gavarni, Eugene Lamy, Gustave de Beaumont, and " Cham" ; and Waugh and Co., chemists and druggists, take me back for more than half a century. Also Aubert and Klaftenberger, watchmakers, are the oldest of old acquaintances. Was there not in the bygone a little mechanical figure of a bird here, with jewelled breast, beak, eyes, and claws, which, on being wound up, used to flap its wings and warble delightful melody?-the warbling, I apprehend, being produced by a small bird-organ in the interior of Dicky.
Quite as old an ally is Carlin, cigar importer; but I cannot remember when he first brought the fragrant weed to Regent Street. As for Ackermann, print publisher, he has been here ever since 1836, and very possibly an Ackermann came hither before I was born. The present Ackermann must be a grandson of rugged old Rudolf Ackermann, the large-minded, strong-willed, persevering German, whose great art-warehouse was at [-222-] the corner of Beaufort Buildings, Strand, where now is Rimmel's, the perfumer's. Three of Rudolf Ackermann's sons continued for many years the business in the Strand, and they were among my very earliest employers, when I was a bit of a painter, and a bit of a lithographer, and a bit of an engraver, and a bit of a "duffer" at all three crafts between the years 1847 and 1852. The good old firm in the Strand faded to extinction some three decades ago, and shops have come and shops have vanished in Regent Street during two generations; but the Regent Street Ackermann exhibits no signs of migration, and, humanly speaking, may go on for ever.
It is precisely the same with Cramer's music warehouse at the corner of Conduit Street. The Post-Office Directory calls the house J. B. Cramer and Co., and classes the firm as musical instrument makers - an announcement which at once carries my mind right across the British Channel to Ostend, in Belgium, and so by way of Brussels, to a certain Field where, on the 18th of June 1815, there was fought a battle of giants, the French Titans being led by one Napoleon Bonaparte, the English by a certain Arthur Wellesley, who, before sunset, managed to rout his tremendous foe, and, in figurative language, more popular than elegant, to "knock him into a cocked hat." Now, on the Field of Waterloo, there is a very pleasant little hotel, the landlady of which is an Englishwoman, and adjoining is a most curious collection of Waterloo relics originally formed by her ancestor, Sergeant-Major Cotton, who fought in the battle, and for many years afterwards officiated as a [-223-] guide to the Field. He founded the little Waterloo Museum, and among the inexpressibly interesting mementoes there gathered together, which at different periods have been picked up on the plateau of Mont St. Jean and thereabouts, I remember seeing an instrument of military music - a bugle or a trumpet, I cannot exactly remember which - inscribed with the maker's name, "J. B. Cramer." That may have been the eminent instrumentalist, Johann Baptist Cramer, who, born in 1771, must have been some forty-four years of age in the Waterloo year. It was not, however, till 1828 that he established the firm of J. B. Cramer and Co. in Regent Street, and in that same year your humble servant took the liberty of coming into the world. I shall have something more to say afterwards on the famous house of Cramer.
FOUR P.M.: REGENT STREET
MEMORY plays us strange tricks sometimes;
and the inability to remember a certain thing or event, or the name of a
particular person, has sometimes an exasperating effect on people with hasty
tempers "Sir," exclaimed an excited member of some State Legislature
in America, "I have a great respect for that Chair. I honour, I venerate
that Chair; but if I am again insulted, overruled, or called to order, I will
kick that Chair and pull its nose." That is what I felt vastly inclined to
do to my own memory when it obstinately refused to tell me the exact whereabouts
on the western side of Regent Street, and, in the last years of William IV., of
a bookseller's shop kept by a worthy Scotchman named Fraser, who founded the
exceedingly able Conservative monthly magazine, with which his name was for so
many years associated.
Fraser's was the London Blackwood, as able, as vigorous, and as amusingly abusive when dealing with people whose persons, or whose politics it did not [-225-] approve, as the famous Ebony of Edinburgh used to be. In the room above the shop, Mr. Fraser used periodically to entertain his staff at supper. What a staff! Daniel Maclise, R.A., who, under the nom de guerre of "Alfred Croquis," had etched the sparkling little outline caricature portraits of contemporary celebrities in Fraser, produced a wonderfully graphic group of the "Fraserians" as they appeared in convivial council assembled, some five-and-fifty years ago. What a staff, I repeat. Carlyle, very much to the fore, Harrison Ainsworth, James Hogg, John Gibson Lockhart, Theodore Hook; Thackeray looming large in the distance; Dr. William Maginn, previously the "Morgan O'Doherty" of Blackwood, vigorously in evidence at Fraser's hospitable board. Maginn, a man of vast learning and of great wit and humour, but whose writings seem to be almost entirely forgotten by the present generation - it might surely be worth the while of some booksellers to republish the Homeric Ballads, - will always in my mind be associated with that shop in Regent Street.
He had written in Fraser a scathing critique on a novel of which the author was the Hon. Grantley Berkeley, a well-known sportsman, and brother of a too well-known nobleman, Lord Fitzhardinge. Mr. Grantley Berkeley being a Liberal, he was, naturally, according to the truculent literary custom of the time, fiercely "pitched into" by the Tory reviewer. The vilipended author thought that the article was not only politically unjust, but that it contained unwarrantable aspersions on a lady of his family. He had not at the time at his [-226-] disposal the columns of any Liberal journal, in which he could "pitch into" his Conservative foe; but he had a horse-whip, and, armed with that instrument of chastisement, he went, accompanied by his brother, Mr. Craven Berkeley, to Mr. Fraser's shop, in Regent Street. He had an interview with the luckless publisher, who declined to give up the name of the writer of the obnoxious criticism; whereupon, the incensed and noble novelist thrashed Mr. Fraser "to a mummy," as the saying goes. Dr. Maginn lost no time in revealing himself' as the author of the review in question, and again following the barbarous custom of the epoch, he challenged Mr. Grantley Berkeley, or was challenged by him, to mortal combat.
The antagonists met, and after exchanging two or three shots, "honour" was assumed to be "satisfied." I fail to see, however, that poor Mr. Fraser got much satisfaction for the beating which he received. It is true that he brought an action for assault and battery against Mr. Grantley Berkeley. He got a verdict and moderate damages, but he was never the same man that he had been before his unmerciful thrashing, and died in middle-age. The Fraser-Maginn-Berkeley incident has always appeared to me as one of the strongest arguments that could be brought forward in favour of reviews and criticisms, both literary and artistic, being signed by the writers thereof, although I am as strongly of opinion that in leading articles in newspapers the anonymous should be strictly maintained. The writer of a "leader" is only part of a very [-227-] complex machine. There may be a dozen persons behind him, who, vulgarly speaking, have had a finger in the pie, in suggesting the subject of the article, or pointing out the lines on which it should be constructed, or in altering or modifying it, if it be editorially thought too strong. That is why it seems to me most appropriate that the writer of the leader should speak in the first person plural and not in the first person singular. It is not so with literary or artistic criticisms; and it should be "I and not "we who should be responsible for saying that Mr. Twopenny, the novelist, is a donkey, and Mr. Rapodie, the poet, an idiot, or that Mr. Spoof, R.A., is only able to paint what Mr. Rudyard Kipling gracefully calls "smeared things." And please to observe that Mr. Kipling, when he does give anybody "fits," signs his name to his strictures. Stay; upon my word here is a glimpse of returning memory. After Mr. Fraser's death, was not time bookselling business in Regent Street carried on by a Mr. Bosworth? Be it as it may, I find no Bosworth in the Regent Street "Up to Date."
The modern aspects of the west side of the street are worth glancing at. I find installed there the offices of a sewing-machine company, a coffee palace, and a branch post and telegraph office, where you can obtain money orders, and where there is besides a savings bank, and an annuity and insurance office. Don't sneer at this information as a trite truism. There was no post-office in the Regent Street of my childhood; there were no telegraphs, no Post-Office Savings Banks, and [-228-] no means afforded by the beneficent St. Martin's-le-Grand for insurance, annuities, or investments in Consuls. There were no sewing machines and no coffee palaces. When I think of the immense deficiencies in our civilisation half a century ago, I sometimes wonder how, in the pre-Victorian era, we managed to eat, drink, and sleep in comfort; to make love and get married or jilted; to transact our business and make money, or lose it. Still, we somehow contrived to accomplish all these things, just as when we turn over the Pepys's Diary, we find that men, women, and children with deficiencies in civilisation far greater than which existed half a century since, seem to have got along, on the whole, as comfortably as we do now, and as two thousand years ago humanity got on at Herculaneum and Pompeii.
I pass frowning old Hanover Chapel, which is said, in the guide-books, to be an edifice of the Ionic order, and in its internal arrangements somewhat to resemble St. Stephen's, Walbrook. I only mention this, to me, uninteresting pile for two reasons. First, because Hanover Chapel will, in all probability, speedily be swept away, and replaced by some secular building; and next, because the portico used, when I was young, to be haunted by Italian image boys, a race who appear to me to have almost entirely vanished from the Metropolis. They were wont to loiter on week-days under the columns of the portico, and rest their burdens on the pedestals. When did you last make acquaintance with the peripatetic youth with swarthy complexion [-229-] and flashing black eyes, bearing on his head a board crowded with plaster-of-Paris effigies of the Venus of Milo, the Huntress Diana, the Triumphal Augustus, Canova's Three Graces, the Dying Gladiator, Shakespeare, the Great Duke of Wellington, and last, but not least, Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria?
I used to haunt the portico of the Chapel when I was a boy of fourteen, and at an English school at Turnham Green; and my visits to the Italian image boys were for the purpose of purchasing plaster casts of antique medals and alti rilievi, which they sold for a penny and twopence each. My school was to a great many intents a technical one; that is to say, we tried our hands at a great many crafts and were masters, perchance, of none; but surely it was the most amusing school that ever a boy was so fortunate as to attend. Among other helps to technical knowledge, we had a chemical laboratory; and returning to Turnham Green with a good stock of plaster medals, the first thing that I did with them was to build a little wall of paper round each medal and pour hot wax over it. When the waxen impression was cold, powdered black lead was carefully brushed over it; and then the medals were taken in hand by a scientific boy, who experimented on them from an electro-metallurgic point of view. Whether he ever succeeded in obtaining a bronze reproduction of any one of the medals from which I had taken the waxen impressions I cannot remember, but I know that on experimental afternoon the scientific boy was wont to levy a forced loan of pence and ha'pence from us, for [-230-] the purpose of their conversion into bronze; and as he was a very big boy, painfully expert in the administration of back-handers, there was no saying nay to his sometimes inconveniently pressing demands for coppers. How it was that an oxyhydrogen lamp came into these experiments I cannot tell; but the general results of our essays in the laboratory were, that we usually contrived to burn holes in our handkerchiefs and in our cuffs with strong acids; to stain our fingers all the colours of the rainbow; and occasionally to fight for possession of a bottle of chemicals, the fracture of which brought us to great scholastic grief.
I have done for the nonce with the west side of Regent Street, although, ere I cross to the east, I may just say one word about the Art Studio of Mr. Van Hier, an artist who produces surprisingly attractive paintings of landscape and marine effects, and who, as a teacher, may be congratulated, I should say, on having guided the studies of a very large number of ladies and gentlemen with a taste for art.
The first building which attracts me on the eastern side of Regent Street, is a shop at the corner of Little Argyll Street. Here once stood the Argyll Rooms, originally established for ball and concert-giving purposes, under the auspices of Colonel Greville. This was during the Regency. In 1818 the rooms were rebuilt in very comely style by the notable street architect, Nash; and here, in 1829, the famous male soprano singer, Velluti, gave a grand concert which I have reason to know was crowded by nearly all the nobility and [-231-] gentry of the period. My mother has often told me about the Regent Street Argyll Rooms. She was Velluti's favourite pupil, and presided at the pianoforte at his Academy for teaching Italian singing. Whether the Academy itself was held at the Argyll I am not certain. The building was burnt down in 1830, and during the conflagration considerable damage was done to the extensive premises known as the "Harmonic Institution" of Messrs. Welsh and Hawes.
Of Mr. Hawes, I have no personal remembrance, but I fancy that he was the father of a well-known English singer, Miss Maria B. Hawes. On the other hand, his partner, "Tom Welsh, as he was usually called, was an old and intimate friend of our family. He had had something to do with music all his life, and also with art, for he was the munificent patron of a gifted artist named Harlowe, the painter of that admirable picture, "The Trial of Queen Katharine," in which there are portraits of the whole Kemble family - corpulent Stephen Kemble (who could play Falstaff without stuffing) as King Henry; Charles Kemble as Cromwell; John Kemble as Cardinal Wolsey, and the divine Sarah Siddons as the Queen. Unless I am mistaken, among the ladies in the foreground there is a portrait of Kitty Stephens, afterwards Countess of Essex. Mr. "Tom" Welsh was one of the last of English musical instructors who took apprentices, or rather articled pupils, of both sexes.
Sir George Smart, whom Tom Ingoldsby described as playing a "consarto" with "four-and-twenty fiddlers [-232-] all on a row," at the Queen's Coronation was another "Mus. Doc.", who took harmonious apprentices, and the worthy knight, with his German rival, were divertingly if somewhat spitefully caricatured in Thackeray's novelette, The Ravenswing. As for the photographers in Regent Street "up to date," their name is not exactly legion; but they are marvellously numerous. Walery, Lock and Whitfield, Van der Weyde, "and a lot more," as the actor with an imperfect memory concluded his enumeration of the Decemvirs in the play of Virginius: "Julius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, and a lot more."
I have always thought it to be entirely within the fitness of things that photographers should abound in Regent Street. Ever so many years ago, far down the street, on the east side, was the Daguerreotype Gallery of M. Claudet, a worthy old French gentleman, who flourished as late as the Paris Exhibition of 1867; and in the window of an optician's shop on the west side, close to what is now the establishment of the London Stereoscopic Company, I saw the first photograph on paper that ever greeted my eyes. It was a transcript of a bookcase - the books rendered with that which was then considered to be almost microscopic minuteness of detail; and the photograph, I believe, was one of the earliest emanations from the process simultaneously invented by the Englishman, Fox Talbot, and the Frenchman, Niepce de St. Victor. If that copy of the sun-picture be extant, it must be worth, I should say, a great deal of money.
Madame Elise and Co., Limited, Court Dressmakers [-233-] and Milliners by Special Appointment to Royalty, always presents a curious interest to me. Not that I want any bonnets, or feel inclined to encourage the purchase by my Partner of any such article at a higher price than sixteen shillings and sixpence - she is quite at liberty to supplement this normal sum by two or three pounds of her own, - but because I knew very well Madame Elise's predecessor, a lady named Jane Clarke, who acquired a large fortune by dealing in old point lace. She was passionately fond of this fascinating fabric, and I have heard that in her will she directed that she should be buried in point lace. Jane Clarke was also an enlightened patroness of art, and brought together a choice collection of valuable paintings.
There is only one other shop on the west side, to which I shall call attention in this penultimate section of travels in Regent Street. I daresay that I spoke of the shop in question - Lechertier-Barbe, artist's colour- men - in a book called Twice Round the Clock; but I have not a copy of the book by me, and you will be so good as to remember that I wrote it some five-and-thirty years ago. If I did at that period mention Lechertier-Barbe, I must have spoken of it even then as a very old-established artist's colour shop, indeed, - as old, perhaps, as Windsor and Newton in Rathbone Place, although perhaps junior of the historic Newman and the equally antique Reeve. As a matter of fact, I have a distinct recollection of the house of Barbe if not of Lechertier in its actual home in Regent Street, close to the County Fire Office, so long ago as the month of [-234-] August 1833. On the 28th of July in the same year, an attempt was made by a Corsican miscreant, named Giuseppe Fieschi, to destroy King Louis Philippe by means of an infernal machine, which the would-be regicide fired from a window of the upper storey of a house in the Faubourg du Temple, Paris. The King escaped; but the brave Marshal Mortier was slain, and a large number of equally innocent people were killed or wounded. Fieschi, himself, was badly hurt by the explosion of some of the musket-barrels, which, placed in a row, formed his murderous engine. A little waxen effigy of him, the face encircled by blood-stained bandages, was made in Paris, and copies were sent to this country. There was one in Barbe's shop window. I used, as a child, to stare at it intently almost every day; and, if my hand were not stiff, I could make a sketch of that little waxen image now.
TRAVELS IN REGENT STREET
IF these fugitive essays on one of the most celebrated and
the most interesting streets in the civilised world had the slightest
pretentions to be considered a History of Regent Street, the third part of my
travels which I now present to you would be more appropriately entitled an
"excursus," which is the name which the learned Professor Becker, the
author of those wonderful pictures of ancient Greek and Roman society Charicles
and Gallus, gives to the equally entertaining and instructive
digressions on particular items of antique civilisation which he occasionally
finds necessary to interpolate in his narrative. The present
"excursus" may be neither entertaining nor instructive; still, I am
compelled to digress in consequence of the amazing number of letters in
connection with Regent Street which have reached me since the publication in
serial form of my two former essays. It will be only courtesy upon my part to
acknowledge their kind communications in this my third essay upon, to me, the
most interesting street in London.
[-236-] First, let me say something about that alteration iii the text of Nicholas Nickleby to which I alluded in a former essay. It appears, so at least a hundred correspondents have been good enough to tell me, that the original text runs thus "The dark-complexioned men who wear large rings, and heavy watch-guards, and bushy whiskers, and who congregate about the Opera Colonnade, and about the box office in the season, between four and five in the afternoon, when Mr. Seguin gives away the orders - all live in Golden Square, or within a street of it." Of course, it was Mr. Seguin. He starts up like a jack-in-the-box, or rather he tumbles out of some dusty pigeon-hole of my memory.
Seguin was a musical party, and I should properly have remembered him as distinctly as I do the contemporary musical names of Mori, Lavenu, Bochsa, and Mapleson. The last was the father of the well-known and genial impresario, Colonel James Mapleson.
But how on earth did the name of Nugent occur to me? Nugent, phonetically, is not in the slightest degree suggestive of Seguin. The only possible way in which I can account for this aberration of memory on my part is to infer that Mr. Seguin may have had a successor by the name of Nugent. Collectors of old Post-Office Directories could set me right in this respect; and, by the way, another of my multitudinous Regent Street correspondents tells me that he has looked up a Post- Office Directory for 1834, which he keeps as a curiosity, and he has passed a very amusing half-hour in looking up the various firms mentioned by me. Most of their [-237-] number he found recorded in the old directory, which, of course, is a very different book from the colossal tome of to-day; still, it is at the same time fully worthy of perusal, especially in relation to the postal arrangements, and the coaching and shipping industries in the days before Rowland Hill, George and Robert Stephenson, and Lieutenant Waghorn. My correspondent has kindly promised to lend me his copy of the 1834 Directory, and I will gladly avail myself of his kindness. I feel sure that I shall be able to make from it an amusing page of London, not "up," but "out of date."
Another friend reminds me that the box office under the Opera Colonnade - that colonnade which will so soon vanish from the face of London - was adjoining or part of the premises of Charlie Wright, the wine merchant. Certainly, Mr. Charles Wright was celebrated for the extremely cheap brands of champagne which he vended; I have his advertisement before me now
Wines from the wood as imported - Imperial measure.
Port and Sherry, 11s, per Gallon ; 2s. 9d. per Quart ; 1s. 4½d. per Pint; 4d. per Gill.
Cape Madeira, 7s. per Gallon ; 1s. 9d. pen Quart ; 10½d. per Pint; 2½d. pen Gill.
All other Wines, Spirits, Porter, Ale, Cyder, etc., proportionately Cheap ; Florence Oil, 1s. 6d. per Flask.
CHARLES WRIGHT, OPERA COLONNADE, HAYMARKET.
And Mr. W. carried on business next to the
Opera Box office, but Mr. Seguin, my informant tells me, kept the print shop at
the corner of Carlton Street, and he had two Sons who became concert-singers of
[-238-] The name of the proprietor of the establishment where alabaster vases and copies of Canova's Dancing Girl were vended was Noseda; and the shop was a little above that of the inventor of the Pannus Corium, whose portrait in crayons - but was it not a portrait in oil and without a frame? - adorned for many years a corner of one of the windows.* (*These essays originally appeared in a periodical now defunct).
A little farther north, lodged the world-famous violinist Paganini. Him I remember well, not in Regent Street, but at Brighton about 1836 - a gaunt, weird man, with long grey-black hair and hollow cheeks and flashing eyes. I never see Henry Irving without recalling Paganini to my mind. I can remember vividly the impression created within me by his playing. It was that he had got inside his violin a devil, and that the imprisoned fiend-demon was now shrieking, now menacing, now supplicating, and now seeking by caressing endearments to obtain his liberty from the magician with the fiddle-stick who was grasping his fiend-tenanted fiddle so firmly by the throat. Paganini played a fantasia on the violin at a concert given by my mother at Brighton, at which the prima donna was the enchanting Marie Malibran; and the illustrious violinist gave me next day, small boy as I was, in a very large frill and a "skeleton" suit, a bank-note for fifty pounds. The gift was conferred under peculiar and almost extraordinary circumstances; but I have already told the tale in print and I may not repeat it now.
Then, again, my informant remembers seeing Rossini [-239-] - the "Swan of Pesaro" - the wondrous composer of the Stabat Mater and the Barber of Seville, with his wife and a magnificent macaw, sitting out on the leads over the colonnade of the Quadrant, under which was the shop of Mr. Stubbs, the blindmaker, whose window was adorned with an effective transparency of the Thames Tunnel. Furthermore, this most copious of scholiasts upon Regent Street reminds me that Mr. Johnson, the wife of the hatter at the corner of Vigo Street, must have been an exceptional schoolmistress, since everybody spoke of her with affection. Among her pupils was a daughter of the famous Italian prima donna, Madame Pasta, who was at the time appearing in Semiramide at the His Majesty's Theatre. He proceeds to tell me that Verrey, the restaurateur, first started in business as a pastrycook on the east side of Regent Street, and had a young lady assistant so very good-looking that she created a sensation as the "Regent Street Beauty." It was a period, I may add myself when "behind the counter" beauties were rather popular at the West End.
There was a splendid specimen of female loveliness and gorgeousness of toilette at a tobacconist's in Jermyn Street, and this fair dame was reputed to be none other than "La Belle Limonadière," from the Café des Mille Colonnes in Paris; and in some other fashionable street, the name of which I fail to remember, there was a handsome swarthy dame who presided behind the counter of a perfumer's and glove shop, and whom rumour declared to have been a member of the [-240-] abundant harem of the deposed Dey of Algiers. The Dey had brought her, after 30th July, to Naples; but the swarthy light of the harem did not see the fun of remaining the slave of a tyrannical and naughty old Bashaw of Three Tails, so, with several of her lady friends similarly circumstanced, she showed the Dey of Algiers a clean pair of heels and went with some success into the perfumery and glove business.
Touching the "Pannus Corium," Messrs. C. Godfrey Hall and Co. write me a note which affords another curious illustration of Dickens's association with Regent Street. "You appear," they say, "to doubt whether we were known in the time of Charles Dickens. Will you permit us to say that we made the great novelist's shoes for upwards of twenty years; and only quite recently we were asked to certify this by a lecturer in America, who had bought three pairs of old shoes with our name inside at 'Bleak House,' a long time ago, and who was exhibiting them through the States. I may here mention, while we are on the subject of the illustrious patron of Pannus Corium, that another correspondent writes that in an edition of Nickleby - a modern and cheap one published by Ward, Lock, and Co.-the Opera Box office paragraph concludes, "when Mr. Seguin gives away the orders." Thus the Ward and Lock edition has evidently been reprinted from the original issue.
Now for a little bit of an "excursus" inside the big one. A correspondent at Bournemouth had been reading that which I said about Mr. Tucker the naturalist's [-241-] shop under the Regent's Quadrant, and took grave exception to my incidental supposition that Mr. Tucker kept his ostrich, and roc, and dodo, and moa-skins in the cellar. As gravely he informed me that the only complete record we have of the dodo is in the shape of a drawing in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford; that the roc is a fabulous bird, chiefly known through the medium of the Arabian Nights; and that the moa is an extinct prehistoric bird of immense size. Yes, dear sir, truly so ; only he did not appear to understand that the passage in question was "rit ironical." By the way, I have seen in New Zealand the incomplete skeleton of a moa.
In this connection, allow me to relate a little apologue. I was lecturing some years ago at Toowoomba, in Queensland, and among other matters on which I touched was the invariable success achieved by the Scotch as colonists. There was nothing to be surprised at in the fact, I added, for had not India itself been once conquered by a perfervid Scot - Alexander of Mackedon? The jokelet was a very small one, and provoked only a mild titter; but just after the lecture I was waited upon by one of the most Scottish-looking Scotchmen I had ever seen. He was immensely tall, had a very red head, and looked like John Balfour of Burleigh, Rob Roy Macgregor, Fergus MacIvor, and the Dougal Creature rolled into one. "I have heard you discourse," he remarked, "and I pairtly agree with ye; but ye made just one clerical error. Alexander the Great was King of Macedon, not Mackedon."
[-242-] I promised to allude further to Cramer's music warehouse in Regent Street, and I will proceed to the best of my ability to redeem my pledge; but my readers will be kind enough to take my statements, as the lawyers say, with "errors excepted." My personal knowledge of any individual Cramer is very slight. I think - mind you, I only think - that there was a Mr. François Cramer, who was leader of the orchestra at His Majesty's Theatre when Laporte was manager, and the late Sir Michael Costa conductor. Costa only waved his baton during the opera; when the ballet - and what a ballet it was! - began, the leader, who was a violinist, took the command, directing the instrumentalists, not with a baton, but a bow. Very old opera-goers will set me right if I am wrong.
I never knew, personally, any Cramer connected with the great music warehouse at the corner of Conduit Street. The firm, when I first remember it, went by the style and title of Cramer, Addison, and Beale. Mr. Addison was a bluff, kind-hearted bourgeois, and an admirable man of business. His partner, Mr. Frederick Beale, was a gentleman who to business energy added a good deal of culture and exceptional conversational powers. He was the father of the extant Mr. Willert Beale, very well known indeed in musical circles, and who not long ago published two very amusing volumes of his lyrical reminiscences. The elder Mr. Beale was also, I think, one of the first promoters of the Langham Hotel, Portland Place.
Touching the Cramers as a family, there were so [-243-] many of them that it is rather difficult to ascertain their separate personalities. John Baptist Cramer, who established the firm of J. B. Cramer and Co., music publishers, was an eminent pianist, and one of the principal founders of the modern pianoforte school. He was a scion of a well-known family of German musicians, and was born at Mannheim; but moved with his father, Wilhelm, to London in 1772. He died in London in 1858.
As a small boy, during the summer season-the winter one we always spent at Brighton, - I was continually in and out of Cramer's in quest of pieces of music required by my mother for the use of her pupils. That circumstance occurred to me, oddly enough, when, some time since, I was privileged to open an Exhibition of Musical Instruments, Ancient and Modern, at the Royal Westminster Aquarium, and in the course of some brief remarks I made to my hearers I incidentally said that I had had perhaps a little too much music in my early days, and did not care much about it now. I was intensely amused the next day to find a sapient reporter saying, in his notice of the Exhibition, that I had confessed to knowing very little about music, and that consequently I wisely abstained from the use of any technical terms. Bless the man! If he only knew how many hundreds of songs and duets that I have had to copy out-ay, and to transpose-when I was young, and how, getting thoroughly sick of the too technical toil, I sometimes invoked anything but blessings on the heads of Bellini, Donizetti, and Carl Maria von Weber.
[-244-] The mighty master who wrote Der Freischutz and Oberon I never knew. He died just before my time; but he was a friend of our family during his brief sojourn in England in 1826, when he super-intended the production of Oberon at Covent Garden. In an old album stamped with the initials of my father, whom I never saw, there is a water-colour sketch, possibly from his hand, of Weber in a long striped dressing-gown, leaning forward in an arm-chair, and evidently in the wretchedest of health. The sketch is dated February 1826, and the gifted composer died a few weeks after.
But if I did not behold the great German maestro at Cramer's, I have seen Bellini there. The composer of La Sonnambula and Norma was, if I remember aright, a very handsome gentleman, with large blue eyes and silky auburn hair. Of Donizetti, the composer of the Puritani, Lucrezia Borgia, and many other enchanting works which they seem rarely to play nowadays, all that I can remember was that out of doors he invariably wore his hat very far at the back of his head.
TRAVELS IN REGENT STREET
SINCE I incidentally made mention of the bugle inscribed with
the name of Cramer, in Sergeant-Major Cotton's Waterloo Museum, 1 have been
slightly troubled in my mind as to whether this particular Cramer was the
artiste who afterwards founded the great music warehouse in Regent Street. My
doubts on this point were happily dispelled by a letter which I received from
one of my many Regent Street correspondents, who told me that he possessed a
copy of Kent's London Directory for 1817, "printed and sold by Henry Kemp
Causton"; and that therein he found the name of "J. Cramer" as a
Martial and Musical Instrument Maker, Pimlico road, Chelsea. Pimlico road is the
long thoroughfare extending from Buckingham Palace Road to Chelsea Hospital; and
if "J. Cramer" was making " martial instruments" two years
after Waterloo, the inference is allowable that he was fashioning his trumpets
and bugles there in the Waterloo year itself.
"Apropos," writes another unknown friend, "of your [-246-] article, 'Travels in Regent Street,' will you pardon me if I venture to call your attention to what was some twenty-seven or twenty-eight years ago considered a great Regent Street curiosity - namely, the stuffed natural horse which adorned the window of one Joseph Abel, a tailor? I mention it inasmuch as it was at that time the only thing of the kind exhibited in any shop window in London." Is this so? I have a dim remembrance of the effigy of a lady in a riding-habit mounted on a fiery charger in the Regent Street shop window at least five-and-thirty years ago; but, perhaps, the horse was a wooden one, and not a stuffed, natural specimen of the equine race!
Touching animals in general, I fear that if I were to venture upon an essay on all the stuffed, stone, or wooden bipeds that I can remember in Regent Street, my readers would soon cry, "Hold, enough!" I may just glance, however, at the terrific array of stuffed lions, tigers, leopards, bears, and other fearful wild fowl, which were wont to glare at you, and which seemed to shake their manes and lash their savage flanks with vehement tails, at a furrier's shop close to that Little Argyll Street of which I have already discoursed. Then there were the two granite lions "sejant" on stone pedestals, close to Madame Elise's, the noses of which noble animals were about 1837 cruelly abraded and then painted sky-blue by the eccentric Marquis of Waterford or some of his wild associates. Animal Regent Street I reserve for a paper which (D.V.) I mean to write some day, entitled "Easily [-247-] Pleased," setting forth the pleasant and interesting sights which a street saunterer in London can feast his eyes upon for nothing. Regent Street used to offer an enchanting variety of such gratuitous spectacles. There was a maker of filters - was his name Lipscombe? - who in his window used to display a mimic and miniature representation of the Grandes Eaux at Versailles. At least, there was an impetuously spouting little fountain, accessory to which was a ball of cork or pith which was continually hopping, and skipping, and dodging round the column of water, sometimes jumping to the summit of the jet and perching there for quite a long time, and then ignominiously tumbling over into the basin of the fountain, like Humpty Dumpty in the nursery rhyme. The cork ball was, however, happier than Dumpty; since, even without the intervention of all the king's horses and all the king's men, it always contrived soon after its cascade to hop up to the top of the fountain again.
Also was there a little waxen effigy of a gentleman with a beautifully curled head of hair and elaborately trimmed whiskers and moustachios, who was exhibited at a hosier's shop, wearing the most symmetrical under-vest and under-pantaloons of spun-silk that you ever saw. Half-nude but not ashamed, the little gentleman in silk underclothing was a sweet boon to me; and I daresay he has been one to many thousands of street saunterers in the Regent Street past. He may be there yet for aught I know, - spruce, faultlessly attired, and with an eternal simper on his somewhat too self-con-[-248-]scions waxen lips. I cannot say, however, that when I was young the little dandy in silk tights filled the first place in my heart. He was truly dear to me; but having been always a respectfully ardent admirer of the fair sex, I suspect that the larger half of my affections were secured by the waxen effigy of a lovely young lady, highly rouged, with the most ravishing blue glass eyes imaginable and very long silky lashes, whose hair was arranged in a multiplicity of long fair ringlets, something like uncooked pork sausages which had been artfully convoluted; while, at the back of her head, there was a plaited chignon, or top-knot, in which was fixed an immense tortoise-shell comb of concave diadem form, adorned with pearls. I think that I first made the acquaintance of this fair Helen in wax in the year of Her Majesty's coronation. To me, this mute beauty in ringlets presented additional fascinations of an almost ecstatic kind. First, by means of an arrangement in clock-work concealed in the pedestal supporting her bust, she was continually, slowly and gracefully revolving, so that one could admire the top - knot and the tortoise-shell comb, as well as the blonde ringlets. And, again, her snowy arms were bare, and instead of her bust being attired in ball costume, as is usual in the case of similar dummies, she wore a ravishing corset of emerald green satin, sprigged with pink flowers and richly adorned with black lace. Whether she was the pride and ornament of a hairdresser's or a stay-maker s shop, I can scarcely recall to mind.
Yet another correspondent, who notes my having [-249-] alluded to a personal remembrance of Mr. Swan, of the firm of Swan and Edgar in Regent Street and Piccadilly. Now my correspondent has been informed by an "old hand," still in the employ of that monumental establishment, that there never was a Mr. Swan in the firm. Perhaps it was Mr. Edgar whom I remember; but here comes in a somewhat curious little incident in connection with the historic house. A good many years ago, my friend, Mr. Henry Sutherland Edwards, wrote a burlesque, produced at the St. James's Theatre, and entitled Edgar and the Swan. It is a laughable fact, that the firm of Swan and Edgar actually approached the Lord Chamberlain for the time being with the request that the title of Mr. Sutherland Edwards's extravaganza might be altered ; seeing that they never advertised, and that Edgar and the Swan wore a perilous resemblance to an advertisement, and might indirectly damage their commercial prestige!
Times change, and we change with them. Of quite a different opinion touching advertisements was my old friend, Mr. H. Melton, a very well-known Regent Street hatter and a gentleman of considerable and genuine humour. Long years ago there was exhibited at the Royal Academy a picture of two dogs, the property of the Prince Consort, crouching on a table on which were also shown the Prince's hat and gloves. The hat was placed at such an angle that the inside of the crown could not be seen; and Mr. Melton used to say with a sigh, "Ah, sir, if Sir Edwin had only moved that hat two inches and a half to the right, so as to exhibit the [-250-] royal arms inside the crown and the inscription, 'H. Melton, Hatter to His Royal Highness the Prince Consort,' what a beautiful cheque would I not have sent to the illustrious painter!" "But Sir Edwin would not have accepted the cheque," I used to observe. "No matter," replied the diplomatic hatter, "I would have bought a horse fifty hands high, and at least the great artist would have accepted a commission to paint that."
Here, for the present, and finally in this place at least, I part with my friendly Regent Street correspondents. They have been very kind and forbearing to me; and I have not had one spiteful letter. Perhaps I may be spared to write, some day, a real little compendious history of Regent Street, from its inception in the brain of Nash, Prince of Architects, to the present day; but, ere I bring these desultory sketches of the famous thoroughfare to a close, I may be suffered to utter one mournful wail, feeble but plaintive, on the disappearance of the dear old Regent's Quadrant. It is not by any means for the first time that I have thus liberated my soul in sorrowful accents on this theme; for you must remember that I am a very old Cockney, and that the London of my youth has in fifty districts, north, south, east, and west, been all but completely transformed. Still, I shall never regard the demolition of the column-supported arcades of the Quadrant as anything but an act of deliberate and unpardonable vandalism. The colonnade was a distinctly original construction; and its quadrantal form was, as you may [-251-] know, due to the circumstance that George the Magnificent, when Prince Regent, was bent on having laid out on the Crown property one spacious and stately Via Triumphalis through which he might be able to ride in his coach and pair, or his coach and six, from his palace at Carlton House to another palace which he designed to build in the Regent's Park, erst Marylebone Fields. From one point to the other it would have been easy enough for Nash to have pierced a thoroughfare as straight as that which the Emperor Nicholas of Russia, with the aid of a pencil and ruler, drew for the route of the railway between St. Petersburg and Moscow; but, had Nash planned a perfectly straight Regent Street, lie would have had to slice off a large piece of Jermyn Street, and, perhaps, even to impinge on St. James's Square. So, when he got from the corner of Glasshouse Street, he determined to turn in a curvilinear direction east, and then west again; and the gentle flowing line of the Quadrant terminating at the County Fire Office, which still happily retains its arcaded character, although it is not columniated, was made down Regent Street, southward, into Waterloo Place, and so to Carlton House.
It must be granted at once that the destruction of the Quadrant was not the outcome of parochial Bumbledom; nor was there at the period of its demolition even a Metropolitan Board of Works, to say nothing of a London County Council, to decree the removal of the colonnade. The deed was done by Her Majesty's Office of Works, moved by the strong representations of the [-252-] majority of the Quadrant shopkeepers. These unaesthetic tradesmen urged, in the first place, that the colonnade was dark, and that the obscurity which reigned there during, perhaps, seven months of the year, prevented them from displaying their wares to the best advantage. If they had only waited three years longer - I think the vandalism was perpetrated about 1848 - they would have found a Paxton who might have built for them an arcade or a colonnade of glass and iron which would have been handsome as well as elegant, and as light as one of the bays of the Crystal Palace; but they were in a hurry, and in 1848 Paxton was still building greenhouses for the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth.
Again, the Quadrant tradesmen pleaded that when the place was lit up by gas at night, the brilliance of the scene attracted hordes of bad characters of both sexes to the spot. This is true to a certain extent; but I have never known a period when bad characters of both sexes did not congregate in some part of the West End, whether sheltered by arcades on the contrary. Regent Street "up to date" is both by day and by night an unimpeachably moral and virtuous thoroughfare, amid the same in degree may be said of Waterloo Place, and even of the formerly naughty Haymarket. But how about Piccadilly from the western corner of the Circus almost as far as St. James's Church? Is that, nocturnally, quite a Piccadilly to be proud of?
The disappearance of the pillars, of which some faint traces may yet be visible where Air Street intersects the Quadrant, was regarded by foreigners as an almost [-253-] phenomenal illustration of the stupid indifference of Londoners to the handsomeness of their own Metropolis. For at least twenty years the Regent's Quadrant had been looked upon by the French as one of the few really comely architectural adornments of London. Views of the Quadrant were often engraved in books of English travel written by French, German, and even Italian and Spanish sojourners in our midst; and I have before me a sheet of French note-paper full fifty years old, the top of which bears a tastefully engraved vignette of the Quadrant, to which the Continental artist has given the widely embracing and somewhat arrogant title of "La Ville de Londres."
I daresay that country cousins still think this part of Regent Street very grandiose, and their admiration may be shared by our American visitors; and, I should say, to the majority of competent judges of architectural effect, the Quadrant, shorn of its colonnade, presents only the aspect of two very bald and monotonous façades; the only curiosity connected with which, is that they are built on a curve forming the fourth of a circle.
Regent Street survived that which its greatest admirers mournfully anticipated would be its deathblow; and it survives to this day as one of the most fashionable, the most interesting, and the most deservedly popular thoroughfares in the Metropolis. It seems practically impossible to rob streets in any great civilised city of their peculiar and traditional characteristics. Thus, one can scarcely realise the idea of a Pall Mall or a St. James's Street without palatial club-houses; and you [-254-] must remember that before the days of clubs there were many aristocratic coffee-houses and taverns in the two thoroughfares just named. It is as difficult to picture a Fleet Street destitute of newspaper offices ; a Strand devoid of a multitude of taverns and eating-houses; a Bow Street, Covent Garden, without an Opera House, or a Catherine Street without a Drury Lane Theatre. Bond Street, again, is not only largely taken up by fashionable millinery and dressmaking establishments, but is also the chosen home of Fine Art emporia; to say nothing of establishments for the sale of bnic4i-brac, together with a few music shops and libraries, where tickets for the Opera and the principal theatres can be purchased.
Regent Street, on the other hand, has a purely modern history, and is absolutely void of historic traditions. The splendid boulevard designed by Nash was driven through a labyrinth of slums, and principally absorbed a long, devious, dirty thoroughfare called Great Swallow Street, which, three generations since, was full of pawnbrokers, dram-shops, and more than equivocal livery stables, which were said to be extensively patronised by professional highwaymen who were naturally desirous that their steeds should be taken into bait at stables where no questions were asked. A few of the slums which once covered the entire area of Regent Street, continue to fringe it on the eastern side, but, on the whole, structurally speaking, the street may be taken as a really surprising illustration of the bright capacity of Nash.
[-255-] In proof of what I say, look at Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road. They are spacious enough in all conscience and properly alineated, and both contain a number of very handsome and even imposing edifices, theatres, residential mansions, warehouses, and gin palaces - especially gin palaces - but the architecture is throughout, straggling, scrappy, and inconsistent. A towering edifice of six storeys has for its near neighbour a tottering little tenement which ought to be pulled down. At almost every intersection of this new boulevard you are forced to obtain a near and far from pleasant view of an unmistakably genuine Soho or Seven Dials slum, which stretches behind the grand new piles of buildings. It is not so with Regent Street. The fringe of slums between Carnaby Street and Poland Street is invisible. In Nash's noble thoroughfare you only see well-designed and harmonious blocks of handsome buildings, which, were they only a couple of storeys higher, would make the street as handsome as the Avenue de l'Opera in Paris.
[-nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.-]