The Old Court Suburb, or Memorials of Kensington, Regal, Critical, and Anecdotical, Volume II

Hunt, Leigh





GEORGE THE FIRST would seldom be visible in these promenades. George the Second, a man shorter than his short father, but smart, strutting, decided-looking, with higher features,


and an underhanging jaw, was fond of being seen; and in all probability not seldom paraded the gardens, amidst avenues of bows and curtseys. Though by no means the conjuror for which he took himself, he was a less dull, though hardly better informed man than his father; had the same instinctive wisdom of self-security, which led to the putting and maintaining the government in the hands of Sir Robert Walpole; was nevertheless the same petty German autocrat, ruling, as far as he ruled at all, like a martinet and a barrack-master; thought men and women (according to the report of Lady Mary) born for nothing else, but to be "kicked or kissed for his diversion;" and whenever one of the ladies gave him to understand that she differed with him on that point, he fancied that she only wanted an


excuse for getting out of him a little of what he valued above all things-money. He one day counted his guineas so often for this purpose, in the presence of Miss Bellenden, that she told him "if he did it again, she should go out of the room." He appears, on a subsequent occasion, to have done it again; upon which, the disgusted beauty gave a jerk to the rouleau that scattered the guineas about the floor, and ran off while he was picking them up.

George's strutting airs of dignity were but disguises of the want of it. Lady Deloraine, who was governess of his children, and at the same time supposed to be one of his mistresses, had her chair pulled from under her one evening at Kensington by the Princess Emily, as she was going to sit down to cards. Her ladyship sprawled on the


floor; and his dignified majesty did not scruple to be very much diverted, and laugh. The Countess, in return, contrived without more ado to play him the same trick; and his dignity was so offended, that a rupture ensued between them, and she was forbidden the Court.

George the Second, like his father, had two chief mistresses; one of them a German, of the name of Walmoden, whom he made Countess of Yarmouth; the other, the Countess of Suffolk before-mentioned; both of them well-tempered, discreet women, who appear to have been as much the favourites of his sober hours, or more so, than of the impassioned moments for which credit was given them. His chief passion had been for his wife; and Sir Robert Walpole showed a rare knowledge of a little-suspected, but no


less certain corner in human nature, by discovering, that the wife retained an ascendancy over the mistresses by setting her husband's pleasure above every other consideration, and so possessing his unbounded confidence. It was a curious instance of the sentiments of those times; at least, in courts; but Caroline of Anspach had been bred up in them, and she carried their toleration to an amount that was perhaps unequalled, especially among those who most availed themselves of the license. This was the reverse of her own case, for she seems to have been as faithful as she was devoted; and her husband passionately said of her, after her death, that he had never loved any woman as he did her.

One of the proofs of Caroline's considering her husband's wishes above all things,


was her going a hunting with him in a chaise, like Queen Anne, though she was in a state of health which must have rendered it more painful to her embonpoint, than it was to that of the dull female Nimrod, her precursor. Another proof, still greater, was her putting her gout-swollen legs into cold water, in order to enable her to accompany her husband in his walks; a dangerous excess of conjugality, which, perhaps, helped to kill her. Caroline's enemies, including a false friend and servile worshipper, of whom more anon, attributed all this self-denial to the desire of secretly ruling where she seemed to do nothing but obey. How could they tell? or if they could tell in part, why was that kind of ascendancy to be a vice in her, which a poet (no friend of hers) proclaimed to be a virtue in others, and which could


never enter the head but of a loving or a generous nature, whatever were the faults of its breeding ?

"Oh bless'd with temper, whose unclouded ray Can make to-morrow cheerful as to-day; She who can love a sister's charms, or hear Sighs for a daughter with unwounded ear; She who ne'er answers till a husband cools, Or if she rules him, never shows she rules; Charms by accepting, by submitting sways, Yet has her humour most when she obeys."

There is a curious reference in a lampoon of the time, to Caroline's habit of walking with her husband, and her not being able to walk so fast, which as it has a relation to the gardens before us, shall here be repeated. Swift, who was in opposition to the Court, thought it very good; and it is not unamusing. "The great river Euphrates" is


the poor Serpentine, Caroline's creation out of ponds; and the king's repetitions of his words, "Who be ye, who be ye ? &c.," looks like the origin of a personal peculiarity of his grandson, George the Third. The jeu- d'esprit is headed: " Supposed to be written on account of three gentlemen being seen in Kensington Gardens by the King and Queen while they were walking." It was thought to be the production of Pulteney or Chesterfield, Walpole's opponents; and two of the gentlemen were probably themselves, the third being Wyndham or Bolingbroke, also his opponents.

"Now it came to pass in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, in the eighth month, in the sixth year of the King, in the beginning of hay-harvest, that the King and Queen walked arm-in-arm in the


gardens which they had planted on the banks of the river, the great river Euphrates; and, behold, there appeared on the sudden three men, sons of the giants; then Nebuchadnezzar, the King, lifted up his voice and cried: 'Oh, men of war, who be ye, who be ye? and is it peace?' But they answered him not. Then spake he, and said: 'There is treachery, oh my Queen, there is treachery;' and he turned his face and fled. Now when the Queen had seen what had befallen my Lord the King, she girt up her loins and fled also, crying, 'Oh, my God!' So the King and the Queen ran together; but the King outran her mightily; for he ran very swiftly, neither turned he to the right hand nor to the left, for he was sore afraid where no fear was, and fled when no man pursued."



The amount of the fact, we suppose, was, that the King and Queen saw the three mortal enemies of their minister coming, one day, up the walk; and the King, in his impatience, not choosing to await their salutations as they passed him, turned about: for Walpole at that time (it was in the year ), was in one of his most trying situations, and, not long afterwards, resigned.

We return to the pleasanter subject of the promenades. When the King and Queen appeared in them, their majesties may have been accompanied by a whole bevy of Princesses, their daughters. Their brother Frederick, Prince of Wales, would, however, be seldom there, difference between father and son being hereditary amongst the Georges. The Kensington Garden promenades were popular throughout the whole of the three


Georges' reigns, but flourished most, as far as names and fashions are concerned, in those of the first and second, beginning with the persons above mentioned and with the brocades and chintzes of Tickell's Poem, and terminating with the Miss Gunnings, Miss Chudleigh, Lady Townshend, Lord Chesterfield, Selwyn, Horace Walpole, and others. The space of time includes half a century; and Walpole, Lady Suffolk, Beau Nash, and Colley Cibber, lived through it all; the two last from a much earlier period, and Walpole into a much later one, down to the French Revolution. At the beginning of it, Lady Mary Wortley Montague, with the wits of the Kit-Cat club about her, may be considered as having been the reigning belle of the promenaders; to her, succeeded the Bellendens and Lepells, with the same wits grown


older; then came Lady Townshend, with the new wits, Horace Walpole, Selwyn, Hanbury Williams, and others; and then crowds were alternately drawn by the "Chudleigh" and the Miss Gunnings; the former, for the adventures related at the beginning of this work; the latter, for perfections of face and figure, which sometimes rendered the crush to get a sight of them positively dangerous. So, at least, it is said; and the reader may believe it, when he hears, that there seems to have been a contest among the nobility, who should obtain them for wives. They had no fortunes; but one married an earl, and the other two dukes in succession. Miss Chudleigh, also, as we have seen, had her earl and her duke. Both the Gunnings died young. One of them was the Countess of Coventry,


on whom Mason wrote some of his best verses.

Yes, Coventry is dead. Attend the strain, Daughters of Albion; ye, that light as air, So oft have tripp'd in her fantastic train, With hearts as gay, and faces half as fair.

Whene'er with soft serenity she smil'd, Or caught the orient blush of quick surprise, How sweetly mutable, how brightly wild, The liquid lustre darted from her eyes

Mason, who was a bustling man, and became a court-chaplain, was probably often in the Gardens. Not so his friend Gray, whose habits were recluse, and who soon tired


of what is called the world. But there came Garrick to look after the fashionable dancer, Mademoiselle Violette, whom he married; there Cibber, before him, to study fops; and there, curiously enough, the sentimental Richardson, to study Cibber; whom he took for the type of a man of fashion. Richardson, with all his moral punctilio, and his inculcations to young ladies to keep at home, was a great walker in public places, and observer of pretty ancles. He says, that, in looking at a lady, he always began " with the feet." This seems odd in a worshipper of Clarissa Harlowe. It helps, however, to account for Lovelace.

The reader must fancy the Kensington Garden promenaders, during this long lapse of time, waxing and waning through almost all the vicissitudes of wigs, coats, cocked-hats,


and hoop-petticoats; for, with the exception of the full-bottomed peruke of the second Charles and James, this was the great period of the reign of those habiliments. The gentlemen began with the full-bottomed peruke in the time of George the First; went into the various modes of bag-wigs, and bobs, and cocked-hats; and changed their coats from ugly to uglier, but all of the same stiff race, with narrow shoulders, and broad hips and skirts, their swords being retained to show that the narrow shoulders belonged to men. The short-tailed coat that was in ascendancy not long ago, with its wretched snipped horse-collar, was the worst and most degenerate offspring of these coats; for it was made as spare as possible, and had not even colour to speak of; whereas, its predecessors were at least ample in the skirts


as the names of sacks and negligees survive to testify. They might seem too much like bed-gowns; or, at least, gowns unlaced. And the bosom, in general, would be thought too much exposed. But the walking-dress, besides being more careful in that respect, showed an opposite extreme of tightness in the stays, while its skirts carried a weight of flounce and furbelow. Tory and Whig ladies, during the disputes about the Hanover succession, patched at one another in beautyspots, differently arranged; and the white rose of the Pretender was sometimes ventured in public, on the bosom of the fair partizan. But the great glory of the whole period, with the exception of a brief interval, was the hoop. This Spanish invention (for such it is supposed to have been, and which originated perhaps in some royal dropsy, or


and sleeves, and the whole suit of clothes blazed out, whether in good taste or otherwise, in silks and velvets, in reds, greens, and gold lace. Colour was, at all events, respected, and dress not grudged its proper dimensions.

The ladies, of course, during all this half century, and these Kensington promenades, out-did the gentlemen in the variety and novelty of their fashions. Their head-dresses rose and fell in all the fluctuations of piled- up and flowing hair; of ringlets, plain and powdered; of lappets, laces, ribbons, feathers, commodes, hoods, bonnets, and mob-caps. Their colours were of the brightest and most blooming kind. The fan was in constant requisition; and muffs increased from small to great. Morning dresses, in doors, might look a little too careless to modern eyes,


other reason, best known to the inventor) is said to have been first copied by the court of France, in the time of Francis the First. It began there with the fardingales, which gradually swelled into the "wheel," big " drum," or sort of " go-cart;" but in England it seems to have burst forth at once into all its bloom about the year , during the reign of Anne; and it waxed and waned afterwards, in proportion as general adoption rendered the vicissitude necessary to the exclusives. The "Tatler" immediately took notice of it, in papers full of pleasant astonishment; and Pope assigned its " important charge," and " wide circumference," to twenty of his guardian spirits in the " Rape of the Lock ;" who, besides the circumventions of the designing, were to save it from the aspersions of tea and coffee-


" Trembling, and conscious of the rich brocade.


The hoop is considered the most monstrous enormity that ever made its appearance in the world of fashion. We confess we cannot think so. We think the notion originates in a mistake ;-in a confusion of ideas; and that the monstrosity was confined to its minor phases;-to the drum, the go-cart, and the pair of panniers; which last was the form of it that prevailed towards the close of the reign of George the Third; and, under which, it finally went out in that of his son (for the hoop lasted a good hundred years in England): and even the panniers, we think, were by no means at their worst, when they were at their biggest. For the philosophy of the matter (to use a fine modern phrase) we take to be this.


The hoop, like any other habiliment, was only ugly inasmuch as it interfered with the mind's idea of the body's shape. It was ugly, when it made the hips appear dislocated, the body swollen, the gait unnatural; in other words, as long as it suggested the idea of some actual deformity, and might have been considered as made to suit it.

But when it was large, and 'the swell of it hung at a proper distance from the person, it became, not an habiliment, but an enclosure. The person stood aloof from it, and was imagined to do so. The lady, like a goddess, was half concealed in a hemisphere; out of which the rest of her person rose, like Venus out of the billows. When she moved, and the hoop was of proper length as well as breadth, she did not walk;-her steps were not visible ;-she was borne along;


she was wafted; came gliding. So issued the Wortley Montagues, the Coventrys, and the Harveys, out of their sedans; and came radiant with admirations of beholders, through avenues of them at palace doors. Thus, poor Marie Antoinette came, during the height of her bloom and ascendancy, through arrays, on either side, of guards and adorers; and swept along with her the eyes and the reformations of Mr. Burke.

Therefore, we do not at all wonder at the enthusiasm of Thomson in his juvenile days, when he wrote the verses on Beauty:-

One thing I mind-a spreading hoop she wore, Than nothing which adorns a lady more. With equal rage could I its beauties sing, I'd, with the hoop, make all Parnassus ring.

* * * * *


With ladies there my ravished eyes did meet, That oft I've seen grace fair Edina's street, When their broad hoops cut through the willing air, Pleas'd to give place unto the lovely fair.

He thought High Street, Edinburgh, heaven itself, while the hoops were thus etherially making their way:-

"Sure this is like those blissful seats above, Where all is peace, transporting joy, and love."

And again, in some verses written expressly "On the Hoop." Its appearance, it seems, in the Scottish capital, was not equally welcome to all parties. There were grave elders, whose imaginations beheld more danger in it, than was conceivable by the juvenile poet. He grows angry, calls them hypocrites, and vindicates the innocence of the


beloved enormity in a pleasant strain of mingled indignation, humour, and weak versification. There is one capital line, however, about the Quakers:-

"The hoop, the darling justly of the fair, Of every generous swain deserves the care. It is unmanly to desert the weak; 'Twould urge a stone, if possible, to speak, To hear staunch hypocrites bawl out, and cry 'This hoop's a (wanton) garb; fie, ladies, fie ?' O cruel and audacious man, to blast The fame of ladies more than vestals chaste! Should you go search the globe throughout,

A foot has been droped out of this verse.

None will you find so pious and devout, So modest, chaste, so handsome, and so fair, As our dear Caledonian ladies are. When awful beauty puts on all her charms, Nought gives our sex such terrible alarms, As when the hoop and tartan both combine To make a virgin like a goddess shine.

Let quakers cut their clothes unto the quick, And with severities themselves afflict, But may the hoop adorn Edina's Street, Till the South Pole shall with the Northern meet."

Thomson's countryman, Allan Ramsay, was equally zealous in behalf of hoops and tartans. He has even a good word to say for patches:

"In your opinion, nothing matches, O horrid sin! the crime of patches ! 'Tis false, ye clowns. I'll make 't appear, The glorious sun does patches wear; Yea, run through every frame of nature, You'll find a patch for every creature; E'en you yourselves, ye blackened wretches, To Heliconians are the patches."

Milton likens Dalila full dressed, to a ship in full sail:


"With all her bravery on, and tackle trim, Sails fill'd, and streamers waving."

But Dalila must have been dressed after Eastern fashion, which was rather draped than swelling; more turbaned or hooded, than topped with ribbons. What would he have said, had he seen his image of the ship enlarged and made out after true naval fashion, by the swelling hoop, the air-catching fan, the solid, mast-like stomacher, reascending in the pillar of the throat, and the "streamers waving in the wind," of ribbons a la Fontange ?

Imagine a squadron of them,-a dozen sail of the line (of beauty),-headed by Admiral the Lady Mary, or my Lady Hervey, supported by Captains Mrs. Hewet and Mrs. Murray, or Commanders the Demoiselles


Bellenden and Lepell. They are all coming up the great high roadstead of Kensington Gardens, between Bayswater and the town; the gentlemen-beholders dying by hundreds in their swords and perriwigs, with their hats under their arms; and the ladies who have not been to court that day, feeling envious of the slaughter. Their sails are not mere white or brown: they are of all the colours of the rainbow, varied with gold and silver; and Pope, who is looking from one of the Palace windows with Dr. Mead, sees the spirits of his " Rape of the Lock" fillipping the jewels in their ears, to make them tremble in the sun.