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

Hunt, Leigh





RETURNING into the road, we here quit the , and have the Terrace on our left hand, and Lower Phillimore Place on the other side of the way.

Terrace, in this, as in so many other instances in the suburbs, is a ridiculous


word; for the ground is as flat as any around it, and terrace (a mound of earth) implies height and dignity.

"May thy lofty head be crowned, With many a tower and terrace." MILTON


The modern passion for fine names and foreign words "hath a preferment in it." It is one of the consequences of the general rise in society. But people would do well to learn the meanings of the words before they employ them; not to christen young ladies Blanche, who are swarthy; cry " bravo" (brave he!) to female singers, instead of "brava;" nor give the appellation of heights to rows of houses that are on a level with a valley. In Kensington, Sir David Wilkie, the painter, passed the greater part of his life,


after quitting , and chiefly in . For nearly three years, beginning with the autumn of , he dates his letters from No. 29, which was the abode of a friend; but he then took one of his own, No. 24, in which he resided with his mother and sister till the autumn of , when he removed with them into the house on the Terrace, called Shaftesbury House, which has since been rebuilt on a larger scale. Why it is called Shaftesbury House, we cannot learn; perhaps because the third Earl of Shaftesbury, the author of the " Characteristicks," who was a visitor at the Palace, occupied it for a while before he took his house at Little . Probably, there is not an old house in Kensington, in which some distinguished person has not resided, during the reigns in which the court was held there.



Wilkie was a gentle, kindly, considerate man, with a figure not insignificant though not elegant, an arch eye, and a large, good-humoured mouth. Such, at least, was his appearance during the time of life at which we remember him. He had an original genius for depicturing humble life, and could throw into it a dash of the comic; though he did not possess the Flemish and Dutch eye for colour; and there was altogether more truth than enjoyment in his style, sometimes a tendency to dwell on moral and even physical pains, the sufferers of which neutralized the sympathy which they needed by a look of sordid dulness.

Hazlitt, out of resentment against the aristocracy for giving their patronage to this kind of art at the expense of higher, of which he thought them jealous (and


perhaps, also, in order to vex Wilkie himself, who was very deferential to rank), called it the "pauper style." The appellation, we suspect, produced the vexation intended, and was one of the causes of Sir David's efforts to rise into a manner altogether different; in which he was not successful. His notion that the persons in the Old and New Testament should all have the native, that is to say, the Syrian or Judaical look, showed the restricted and literal turn of his mind. He fancied that this kind of truth would the more recommend them to the lovers of truth in general; not seeing, that the local peculiarity might hurt the universality of the impression; for though all the world feel more or less in the same manner, they are not fond of seeing the manner qualified by that of any one particular nation; especially, too,


when the nation has not been associated in their minds with anything very acceptable, or even with acquiescence in the impression to be made. The next step in this direction might be to represent St. Paul as a man of an insignificant presence, because the apostle so describes himself; or to get a stammering man to sit for the portrait of Moses, because the great law-giver had an impediment in his speech. This is not what Raphael did when he painted Paul preaching at Athens, with mighty, uplifted arms; nor what Michael Angelo did, when he seated Moses in the chair of Sinai, indignantly overlooking all beneath him, and ready to hurl down the tables of stone, like thunderbolts, on the heads of his misbelieving followers. We do not mean to say, that lovers of truth might not be found, who would accord with Sir David's opinion,


and let good consequences take their chance; but he did not look at the matter in this comprehensive light. He thought, that there was no risk of chance, remote or immediate, except in not making the local history local enough; and he did not see, that this would have endangered the object he had in view, and served to contract instead of extending it.

Though Wilkie never married, one of the best features in his character was domesticity. He was no sooner rich enough, than he brought his mother and sister from , in order that they might partake his prosperity in the way most agreeable to family affections. He was also careful to give them news of himself before they came. As it is pleasant to know the daily habits of distinguished men, we give the following account of his life at


from one of his letters to his sis- ter.

"The anxiety my mother has laboured under about my health, on seeing that I had not with my own hand directed the newspaper, is entirely groundless. I am as well now as I have been for a very long time, and am going on with the painting in my usual moderate way. I am sometimes glad to get anybody to direct the newspaper on the Monday forenoon, for the sake of saving time, which is an important consideration in these short days. Everybody I meet with compliments me on the improvement of my looks, and I am taking all the means in my power to retain my improved appearance. I dine, as formerly, at two o'clock, paint two hours in the forenoon and two hours in the afternoon, and take a short walk in the park or through the fields twice



In the sunny portion of Wilkie's life terminated in clouds that gathered suddenly and darkly upon him; -his mother dying; his sister losing the man she was about to marry; his eldest brother dead, in ; a second brother coming home to die, from Canada; a younger brother involved in commercial difficulties; and the artist himself, who was too generous not to suffer in every way with his family, losing further money by the failure of houses, and failing in his own health, which he never recovered. Such are the calamities to which comic as well as tragic painters are liable, in order that all men may share and share alike, till "tears can be wiped from off all faces." Wilkie subsequently removed to Vicarage Place, in Church Street; and this, his last abode in , was also his last in England.


a day. In the evening, I go on with the mathematics, which I take great delight in; and I have also begun a system of algebra, a study I should like to learn something of too."

When his mother and sister came, the good artist took care that as much as possible of the old household furniture, to which their eyes had been habituated, should come with them from ; and he said (his biographer informs us) that "if he were desired to name the happiest hour of his life, it was when he saw his honoured mother and much-loved sister sitting beside him while he was painting."

The "short walk through the fields" must have been in those between , Brompton, and Little , now fast disappearing before the growth of streets.


He travelled for health's and study's sake, in , , and ; returned, and travelled again, going to , and other dominions of the Sultan, whose portrait he painted; made other ineffectual attempts to become an artist out of his first line; and with a strangely romantic end for one who began with the line which he ought never to have forsaken, died on his way home, and was buried off , in the great deep.

After all, there was in Wilkie's character, as there is in most men's, however amusing they may be, a grave as well as comic side, corresponding with the affectionate portion of it; and this, very likely, it was, that in conjunction with the provocation given him by Hazlitt and by jealous brother artists, led him to attempt at higher subjects, and a deeper tone in painting. He


also appears to have had a delicacy of organization, tending to the consumptive; though prudence and prosperity kept him alive to the age of fifty-six.

"Nature is vindicated of her children." The sensibilities of a man of genius turn to good account for his fellow-creatures, compared with whom he is but a unit. Wilkie, himself, enjoyed, as well as suffered: he had a happy fireside during the greater part of his life; he had always an artist's eye, which is itself a remuneration; and he knew that ages to come would find merit in his productions.

Turning northward out of the high road, between Lower and Upper Phillimore Place, is Hornton Street, at the further house in which, on the right hand, resided for some years, Doctor Thomas Frognall Dibdin, the sprightliest of bibliomaniacs.


books had been worth as much inside as out; but in a question between the finest of works in plain calf, and one of the fourth or fifth-rate, old and rare, and bound by Charles Lewis, the old book would have carried it hollow. It would even have been read with the greater devotion. However, the mania was harmless, and helped to maintain a proper curiosity into past ages. Tom (for, though a Reverend, and a Doctor, we can hardly think of him seriously) was a good-natured fellow, not very dignified in any respect; but he had the rare merit of being candid. A moderate sum of money was bequeathed him by Douce; and he said he thought he deserved it, from the "respectful attention" he had always paid to that not very agreeable gentleman. Tom was by no means ill-looking; yet he tells us, that being in


He was not a mere bibliomaniac. He really saw, though not very far, into the merit of the books which he read. He also made some big books of his own, which though, for the most part, of little interest but to little antiquaries, contain passages amusing for their animal spirits and enjoyment. When the Doctor visited libraries on the continent, he dined with the monks and others who possessed them, and made a feast-day of it with the gaiety of his company. When he assembled his friends over a new publication, or for the purpose of inspecting a set of old ones, the meeting was what he delighted to call a " symposium ;" that is to say, they drank as well as ate, and were very merry over old books, old words, and what they persuaded themselves was old wine. There would have been a great deal of reason in it all, if the


company, when he was young, with an elderly gentleman, who knew his father, and the gentleman being asked by somebody whether the son resembled him, "Not at all!" was the answer. "Captain Dibdin was a fine-looking fellow."

This same father was the real glory of Tom; for the reader must know, that Captain Dibdin was no less a person than the "Tom Bowling" of the famous seasong:

Here a sheer hulk lies poor Tom Bowling, The darling of our crew.

Captain Thomas Dibdin was the brother of Charles Dibdin, the songster of the seamen; and an admirable fellow was Charles, and a fine fellow, in every respect, the brother thus fondly recorded by him. "No more," (continues the song, for the


reader will not grudge us the pleasure of calling it to mind)

No more he'll hear the tempest howling, For death has broavh'd him to. His form was of the manliest beauty, His heart was kind and soft; Faithful below he did his duty, But now he's gone aloft.

Dr. Dibdin was thus the nephew of a man of genius, and the son of one of the best specimens of an Englishman. His memory may be content.

The Doctor relates an anecdote of the house opposite him, which he considers equal to any "Romance of Real Life." This comes of the antiquarian habit of speaking in superlatives, and expressing amazement at every little thing. As the circumstance, however, is complete of its kind, and the


kind, though not so rare, we suspect, as may be imagined, is not one of every-day occurrence, it may be worth repeating. A handsome widow, it seems, in the prime of life, but in reduced circumstances, and with a family of several children, had been left in possession of the house, and desired to let it. A retired merchant of sixty, who was looking out for a house in Kensington, came to see it. He fell in love with the widow; paid his addresses to her on the spot, in a respectful version of the old question put to the fair showers of such houses (" Are you, my dear, to be let with the lodgings ?"); and after a courtship of six months, was wedded to the extemporaneous object of his affections at Kensington Church, the Doctor himself joyfully officiating as clergyman; for the parties were amiable; the bridegroom was a collector of books; and the books were


accompanied by a cellar full of burgundy and champagne.

Returning into the high road, and continuing our path on the Terrace side of the way, we come to Leonard's Place, and to Earl's Court Terrace, in both of which Mrs. Inchbald resided for some months, in boarding-houses; in the former, at a Mrs. Voysey's; in the latter, at No. 4. Boarding-houses, though their compulsory hours of eating and drinking did not suit her, she found more agreeable than other lodgings, owing to their supplying her with more companionship, and giving her more to do for her companions. The poor souls in these places appear to need it. Speaking of the kind of hospital at Mrs. Voysey's, in the summer of , she says,-"All the old widows and old maids of this house are stretched upon beds or sofas, with swollen


legs, nervous head-aches, or slow fevers; brought on by loss of appetite, broken sleep, and other dog-day complaints; while I am the only young and strong person among them, and am called upon to divert their blue devils from bringing them to an untimely end. I love to be of importance; and so the present society is flattering to my vanity."

She was then sixty-five. What a god-send to the poor creatures she must have been! A woman of genius, very entertaining, full of anecdote and old stories, and though so young in mind, yet of an age bodily to keep them in heart with themselves, and so make hope to live on.

At the back of Earl's Terrace, was, and is, a curious, pretty little spot, called Edwardes Square, after the family name of Lord Kensington; and in this square Mrs.


Inchbald must often have walked, for the inhabitants of the Terrace have keys to it, and it gives them a kind of larger garden. We have called the spot curious as well as pretty, and so it is in many respects,-in one of them contradictory to the prettiness, for one side of the square is formed of the backs and garden-walls of the Earl's Terrace houses, and the opposite side of its coachhouses, and of little tenements that appear to have been made out of them. The whole of this latter side, however, is plastered, and partly overgrown with ivy, so as to be rather an ornament than an eyesore. But what chiefly surprises the spectator, when he first sees the place, is the largeness, as well as cultivated look of the square, compared with the smallness of the houses on two sides of it. The gardener's lodge, also, is made to look like


a Grecian temple, really in good taste; and though the grass is not as thick and soft as it might be, nor the flowers as various, and pathways across the grass had better have been straight than winding (there being no inequalities of ground to render the winding natural), yet, upon the whole, there is such an unexpected air of size, greenness, and even elegance in the place, especially when its abundant lilacs are in blossom, and ladies are seen on its benches reading, that the stroller, who happens to turn out of the road, and comes upon the fresh-looking sequestered spot for the first time, is interested as well as surprised, and feels curious to know how a square of any kind, comparatively so large, and, at the same time, manifestly so cheap (for the houses, though neat and respectable, are too small to be dear), could have suggested itself to the costly English mind.


Upon inquiry, he finds it to have been the work of a Frenchman.

The story is, that the Frenchman built it at the time of the threatened invasion from ; and that he adapted the large square and the cheap little houses to the promenading tastes and poorly-furnished pockets of the ensigns and lieutenants of Napoleon's army; who, according to his speculation, would certainly have been on the look-out for some such place, and here would have found it. Here, thought he, shall be cheap lodging and fete champetre combined; here, economy in-doors and Watteau without; here, repose after victory; promenades; la belle passion; perusal of newspapers on benches; an ordinary at the Holland Arms,-a French Arcadia in short, or a little Palais Royal, in an English suburb. So runs the tradition;


we do not say how truly, though it could hardly have entered an English head to invent it.

It was allowable for French imaginations in those days to run a little wild, on the strength of Napoleon's victories. We do not repeat the story for the sake of saying how wild. We believe that both Frenchmen and Englishmen, at present, for reasons best known to all governments, not actually out of their senses, are for keeping their localities as peaceably and regularly as possible ; and we devoutly hope they may continue to do so, not only for the sake of the two greatest nations in Europe, but for that of the security of advancement. For it is better to advance gently, however slowly, than to be incessantly thrown back from one extreme to another; and the world and right opinion will progress as surely as time does, whatever


efforts despots and bigots may make to put back the clock.

It is said, in , that Coleridge once had lodgings in Edwardes Square. We do not find the circumstance in his biographies, though he once lived in the neighbouring village of Hammersmith. Perhaps, he was on a visit to a friend; for we are credibly informed, that he used to be seen walking in the square. A lady who was a child at the time, is very proud of his having spoken to her, and given her a kiss.