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THE PHILOSOPHY OF LONDON.
THE British capital has been called a province covered with houses; the chief causeway of the world; the great estuary of the tide of human existence; the empress of all cities, with whose fame the nations
ring from side to side," the Baby lon of the west, which in wealth and population may claim precedence of contemporary realms!* There is
but one London; and, take it for all in all, it is at this day a more interesting object of contemplation than any other spot of similar dimensions on the surface of the globe. It wants the gorgeous palaces, the spacious quays, and the pleasant gardens, of its neighbour on the Seine; it partakes not of the melancholy magnificence of Rome, "lone mother of dead empires," the historical sanctuary of hallowed recollections ever eloquent of olden fame, 'mid ruins darkened with the crust of centuries; it is not adorned, like Florence, with the delicate creations of those wondrous masters, who left Art's self effete, and hopeless of an equal effort; it boasts not of the glad and glorious scenery of Naples, rejoicing in a soil where even the
speculation than any other visible object throughout the world.
Every feature of the metropolis appears to be coloured more or less with the complexion of the national character, and thus acquires a moral interest which materially enhances the dignity of such a topic. The English, as a people, are essentially the very reverse of poetical in their perceptions, or romantic in their tastes; and, accordingly, the whole territory of Cockaigne, even to the extremest periphery of its environs, and brick-and-mortar dependencies, presents a most emphatic negation of any and every thing that could be designated by either of those epithets, save and except an occasional copperplate in a window-pane. Indeed, wherever Nature seems to indicate the slightest semblance of the picturesque, the uncongenial sympathies of the inhabitants have effectually vulgarised the entire locality. The stranger, for example, is pleased with the site and aspect of a pleasant little islet adjoining the classic banks of Twickenham; but no sooner has it arrested his attention, than he is addressed in a cacopho
more generous than our nous patois, which doubtless must be
sunshine, and reflected with all its classic villas and picturesque details in the limpid loveliness of the subjacent
secrated anean; it is not con
like Venice, to the very genius of poetry, and graced with beauteous gondolas, that glide along its liquid thoroughfares through the stillness of evening, in harmony with the barcarole and the serenade, the tabor and the guitar; nor yet is it clothed with the romantic grandeur, surrounded with the goodly prospect, or dignified with the mountain diadem, of Edinburgh': still its geometrical immensity, enior still its geométrical immensity, enor mous population, immeasurable moral influence, political supremacy, indomitable enterprise, tremendous wealth, and, to sum all, its vast, various, and comprehensive intellec tual capabilities, constitute in the aggregate a more curious theme for
meant for the vernacular," That 'ere is the 'heel-pie-'ouse,' where the folk wot lives in Lunnun comes for to go for to eat heel-pies." Alas for sentiment! and this, too, in the immediate neighbourhood of Pope's villa! Nor is the noble river less indebted to "Augusta" for dignified associations, as it flows further eastward, for at Blackwall its reputation is dependent on its g gastronomic resources at the savoury season of "white bait." Dr Paley illustrated the curious structure of the retina, by noticing its power to entertain the various recipients presented to it on all sides, in the prospect from Hampstead-heath, by the way, not to be compared with that from Arthur's Seat or Killiney, but how would the philosopher have nauseated the fetid advertisement of a loathsome empirie (in white-wash capitals,
The single parish of Mary-le-bonne is said to contain actually more riches, and a greater number of inhabitants, than the principality of Wales.
about the length of Mr Fyshe Palmer,) that now desecrates the wild vale in the very foreground! So much, then, for the Cockney picturesque !
Again, the Sassenach burghers are so peculiarly sensitive respecting what Blackstone calls the rights of persons and the rights of things, and so selfish withal, that it is with great difficulty they can ever be induced to forego any private advantage for the sake of society as a whole. This somewhat churlish characteristic is exemplified oftener than one could desire in the social arrangements of the metropolis. The interior of the squares, and even of the Regent's Park, is inaccessible to all but a favoured few, to whom accident has casually given the privilege of admission; and the extension of the same pedestrian franchise to their fellow-citizens would be considered almost as monstrous as a disruption of the whole civil system. The result of similar concessions in St James's Park, Kensington Gardens, and also those of the Inner Temple, on summer evenings, sufficiently proves that the cessation of the monopoly would be a benefit to all, and an injury to no one. The New Road is precisely the width of the Interior Boulevards in Paris; but in the one case, the whole of the space between the houses on either side is available to the public, whereas in the other, the general thoroughfare bears only the same proportion to the intervening width, as a poetic text to a quarto margin, while the remainder is apportioned into little plots, that hardly suffice to contain more than a couple of boxwood borders and a barrow-load of brown gravel, But then it has an air of exclusiveness, and that, doubtless, in the estimation of the householders, is preferable to several rows of stately elms, with quiet paths between, putting altogether out of consideration the advantages which would accrue
to society at large were the ground allocated otherwise. But the civic world, in general, can much more readily understand the actual rights of individuals in detail, than appreciate the abstract generic claims of the community as a public. The silvan dignity and leafy honours of the Hamadryads, however, would be profaned by the juxtaposition.
In your unsophisticated cit of the genuine town breed, the grander features of external nature produce no corresponding elevation of sentiment; and it is more than probable that a sight of the Falls of Niagara, to the sordid faculties of such an animal, would only suggest a calculation as to the feasibility of converting an integral portion of the flood into a profitable mill-race.*
The principle of suum cuique is no less felicitously enforced in that ostentatious but rather heavy piece of architecture, the Regent Quadrant, the pillars of which exhibit from time to time different colours, according to the fancy of the shop-owners to whose premises respectively they happen to belong. Thus, Mr Figgins chooses to see his side of a pillar painted a pale chocolate, while his neighbour Mrs Hopkins insists on disguising the other half with a coat of light cream colour, or haply a delicate shade of Dutch pink; so that the identity of material which made it so hard for Transfer, in Zeluco, to distinguish between his metal Venus and Vulcan, is often the only incident that the two moieties have in common.
Furthermore, the affections of John Bull for the most part originate in the region of the midriff, and more especially beneath the peritoneum, from whence, under favour of the digestive organs, they ascend to the bosom, or thorax, where they are gradually subtilized into something like sensibility. For proof of this, it is only necessary to refer to the many excellent institutions which, beneath the divine blessing, have at
* Napoleon has noticed the proximity of the sublime to the ridiculous, and it so happens that his aphorism was never more forcibly verified than in a recent posthumous tribute to himself. An ingenious print, entitled "L'Ombre de Napoleon visitant son tombeau," was lately published in Paris, and lithographed in London immediately afterwards, to be cried about the streets as "The Shade of Napoleon wisiting his tomb, at the moderate charge of one ha'penny!" For sluicing with vulgarity the sublimest idea that imagination ever conceived, we would pit an illiterate Cockney against the world,
tained to such prosperity by virtue of the process, as Mr Bleaden knows full well, and the ghost of many an Essex calf that expired at the butcher's of a sore throat, could indisputably attest. Were further evidence required, it would be found at the theatres, where sausage tartlets, and stiff bottled punch, are frequently the most vendible commodities amongst the second class of visitors, although the scene may have but just closed on the death-struggle of Richard, or the sorrows of Belvidera.
“By day and night, but this is wondrous strange!"
In Paris, even at such a theatre as Franconi, dealers of a similar class would have tendered the hire of a fan or an opera-glass, and peradventure a goblet of l'eau sucree, of which "he who drinks the most has the worst share." Perhaps it is by trifles such as these that the general character of a people is most strongly marked and most accurately estimated.
That sturdy tenacity of purpose, and irrepressible impatience of subserviency to others, which probably have contributed not a little to our political advancement, it must be owned, are exercised at times with but slight regard to courtesy or convenience. This is particularly evident at the Babylonian theatres, when one portion of the audience happen to desire the repetition of a song, while the remainder as resolutely object to it. The vetoists politely intimate their disapprobation by hissing the unfortunate performer, even although the party should be a lady! and the encore is seldom finally disposed of until after an uproar of several minutes, the decision, whether for the ayes or the noes, usually fol-lowing a practical parenthesis of Imuch admired disorder." This, be it observed, is not the case anywhere else. Our more considerate neighbours across La Manche, on such occasions, invariably, and in a moment, waive their own inclinations where they find that more than a moiety of the audience is opposed to them, and therefore it becomes scarcely ever necessary to utter the words "bis" or "non" a second time, for no one thinks of demurring to the declared will of the majority
thus enunciated in a single monosyllable.
To do justice to the English character, it is necessary to judge of the people in the gross, instead of inspecting them in detail, and look rather to their social institutions, than to the individual component parts of the community. The charities of life, and all the cardinal essentials of philanthropy, are nowhere more sedulously cultivated, and more thoroughly naturalized, than in their well-nurtured metropolis, and yet nowhere is that "benevolence in trifles" which puts men in good humour with themselves and one another, so universally neglected. To strangers the townbred are like a cucumber, cold in the third degree; and of all places within the limits of civilized existence, that in which John Bull appears to least advantage, is a modern tavern.
seems to assume that every one is a rogue, until the contrary is demonstrated, as plainly as the fact that the pigs at Hogsnorton can play upon the organ. He seems to say with the Psalmist, not "in his haste," but at sullen leisure over an unsocial tumbler of rum toddy,—" all men are liars ;" and the slightest overture towards a conversation, on the part of his neighbour in the same box, would infallibly cause a total subversion of his countenance, for he could only imagine the interlocutor to be influenced by some such motive as might induce a church-mouse to make a leg to a Welsh rabbit. He ejects a dry but beautiful piece of brevity from the bottom of his throat by way of an apology for a reply, and straightway assumes as much dignity and reserve of deportment as if he were the Gonfalonière of San Marino, intimating by his manner pretty clearly that the offending colloquialist would have a much better chance of finding one of the oaks of Dodona a conversible companion. The stranger haply bethinks him of the moral inculcated by the graceful muse of Bunker's Hill, and therefore attempts no rejoinder
"This here monument was built of stone, Because Lord North wouldn't let the Americans alone."
To call such a creature a gregarious animal, it is obvious, would be somewhat of a misnomer; yet, encounter the same person in a different atmos
sphere, his suspicions disarmed, his frigidity thawed into loving-kindness, and perhaps he may prove one of the worthiest of men" that e'er wore earth about him."
Those who would see the capital for its own sake, should perambulate its deserted thoroughfares at the first turn of the morning, when "all the air a solemn stillness holds," and society itself is in a state of suspended animation. They will then more easily comprehend the import of the remark that" the grove cannot be seen for the trees," inasmuch as the absence of detail enables the eye to traverse the superficies of the whole, without being obstructed by merely factitious incidental objects, or embarrassed amid a variety ever changing and evanescent. The town horizon is sharp and rigid in a hard morning sky, for once clarified from the fumes of traffic, and unpolluted by the exhalations of a hundred thousand hearths. The buildings are clearly defined in all their circumstantial architecture," from slabby pavement even to bossy frieze;" and the exact statistics of the silent streets, with their respective appurtenances, wherever they merit notice, are ascertained at a glance, and examined without interruption. It would almost appear as though the spectator, having obtained the power of contraction which Milton ascribes to his fallen angels, were threading his way through an accurately moulded model, and the gorgeous edifices which he discovers on every side around him, so severely traced against the pure crystalline sky, suggest to the fancy those towers delineated by Chinese artists on a surface of plate glass, of which the obverse has been sheeted by quicksilver. Thus it is not without reason that some great poet, whose fame has not descended to posterity with his distich, has exclaimed,
"The glories of proud London to survey,
The sun himself shall rise by break of day!"
Nor great Alcairo, such magnificence
This too at a time when the Thames was allowed to steal through the town, like Bayes' army, "in disguise," although the Seine and Arno, and even every dike in Holland, were adorned with spacious quays, flanked with superb embankments, and overarched with stately bridges. People in those times, (when "the londe was al ful fill'd of faërie,") it may naturally be supposed, were a little given to exaggeration. They compared Cheapside and its sign-boards (to wit, the Cat and Fiddle, the Goose and Gridiron,the Bag o' Nails,* the Pig and Whistle, &c. &c.) with the Medicean Gallery for its choice collection of paintings, which they looked upon as the happiest efforts of inventive genius. But, alas! the era of Green Dragons and Blue Boars (as the Whigs are wont to say in Parliament) is now matter of history," and the age of "economists and calculators has succeeded." In this kind of grandiloquent ostentation, as in every thing else, the Parisians were emulous competitors, for the French poets, it appears, in a similar vein, compared the lamps of Paris to the planets themselves,
pendant in the vault of heaven,' although they were neither more nor less than misshapen tin lanterns, hung by pack thread in the middle of dirty narrow streets. The notions of taste which prevailed amongst the gentle citizens of ancient London, may be duly estimated from the nature of the discussion in the Common Council, when it was resolved to build an official residence for the Lord Mayor. While the portly dig
* To trace the origin of signs would be an amusing relaxation for the Society of Antiquaries. Who could have imagined that bag o' nails" was a corruption of the Bacchanals, which it evidently is from the rude epigraph still subjoined to the fractured classicism of the title? In the same manner the more modern "Goat and compasses❞ may be identified with the text of "God encompasseth us," which was a favourite ale-house motto amongst the Puritans.
nitaries of the city were debating this weighty matter, the Lord Burlington, in his zeal for the arts, thought fit to send them an original design of Palladio, every way worthy of its author, for their approbation and adoption. His lordship's proposal put the corporation in a prodigious pucker; they all met and looked unutterable things, (the face of every man of them, like that of Macbeth, was as a book where men might read strange matters,") they ate a dinner, and agreed to summon a special court to consider of it, and it was moreover darkly hinted that they would eat another afterwards, should the momentous affair in hand be satisfactorily disposed of. The question, however, which they discussed, was not, whether the plan suggested would be suitable or judicious, but whether this same Palladio was freeman of the city. The debate began to turn entirely on the point so unexpectedly mooted, and was carried on with great animation, until at last a worthy deputy observed that it was of little consequence, as it had been long notorious that the party in question was a Papist, whose design of course was inadmissible on principle. Such intelligence was decisive; it elicited a burst of orthodox indignation, and the corporators, with true burgomaster sagacity, at once adopted the plan of a French Protestant, who had originally been a shipbuilder.* The edifice, when erected, was libelled with the particularly clumsy name of a "mansionhouse," which every body must perceive is a wretched abuse of language; and such a bulky allegory is thrust upon the façade, that the artist has been obliged to place the plump figure of Plenty on her knees, because there is not enough of room for her to stand erect. It is, however, altogether quite as felicitous an exemplification of "fitness of things," according to civic perception, as the lonely dwarfish statue to be seen in the centre of so many of
the squares, which is so completely out of keeping with the sphere in which it is stationed, as to suggest a resemblance to some St Bartholomew gilt gingerbread king, stuck among turnip-tops in a green-grocer's stall.
This indeed is not absolutely as offensive as the former system of cooping up a few frightened sheep, with sooty fleeces and meagre carcasses, in a wooden paling, by way of improving on the rus in urbe, through the introduction of pastoral associations. Indeed, the few squares that existed in London antecedent to 1770, were rather sheep-walks, paddocks, and kitchen gardens, than any thing else. Grosvenor Square in particular, fenced round with a rude wooden railing, which was interrupted by lumpish brick piers at intervals of every half-dozen yards, partook more of the character of a pond than a parterre; and as for Hanover Square, it had very much the air of a sorry cow-yard, where blackguards were to be seen assembled daily, playing at hussel-cap up to their ankles in mire. Cavendish Square was then for the first time dignified with a statue, in the modern uniform of the Guards, mounted on a charger, à l'antique, richly gilt and burnished; and Red Lion Square, elegantly so called from the sign of an aleshop at the corner, presented the anomalous appendages of two illconstructed watch-houses at either end, with an ungainly naked obelisk in the centre, which, by the by, was understood to be the site of Oliver Cromwell's re-interment. St James's Park abounded in apple-trees, which Pepys mentions having laid under contribution by stealth, while Charles and his queen were actually walking within sight of him.†
In 1744 there were only four hundred and twenty-nine houses, and twenty-one stable yards, on the whole of the great property called White Conduit Mead, comprising New Bond Street, Conduit Street,
This was somewhat in character with the degree of civilisation which the Romans had attained in the consulship of Memmius, who, when sending some of the choicest pieces of Grecian sculpture to Rome, took a receipt from the ship-master, obliging him to provide as good, should any of them, while in his custody, chance to be damaged or lost.
+ The quaint style of this old writer is sometimes not a little entertaining. He mentions having seen Major-General Harrison “hanged, drawn, and quartered at