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

Hunt, Leigh

1855

CHAPTER III.

CHAPTER III.

 

WE have said that , in Red Books and Directories, is understood to begin at Kingston (or Ennismore) House. And such is the case. But as the only rows of houses, till of late years, that is to say, of houses in actual conjunction, were that which you pass just before reaching the Cabinet Exhibition, and another lower down the road,

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the former of these rows is still inscribed, "," and is the spot emphatically so called. It is also, to distinguish it from the other, sometimes called the Upper Gore. We notice it the more particularly, because it is remarkable, among other respects, for its style of building. It consists but of five houses, four of which are faced with white stucco, all of them very small, and Nos. 2 and 3 apparently consisting but of one room, a drawing-room, with six windows. Yet they have an air of elegance, and even of distinction. They look as if they had been intended for the out-houses, or lodge, of some great mansion which was never built; and, as if, upon the failure of that project, they had been divided into apartments for retainers of the Court. You might imagine that a supernumerary set of maids of honour had lived there (if maids of honour could

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live alone); or that five younger brother of lords of the bed-chamber had been the occupants-all being bachelors and expecting places in reversion. The two houses which seem to be nothing but one drawing-room, possess, however, parlours and second stories at the back, and have good gardens; so that what with their flowers behind them, the park in front, and their own neatness and elegance, the miniature aristocracy of their appearance is not ill borne out.

In the year , Mrs. Inchbald (of whom more hereafter) knocked at the door of one of these houses, in hopes of getting the apartments that were to let; but the lodginghouse lady was so fine a personage, and so very unaccommodating, besides reserving all the prospect for herself, and charging a round sum for the rooms which had no prospect, that the authoress of the " Simple

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Story" indignantly walked off. She says that the furniture was crazy; that she would not have accepted the first floor, had it been offered her for nothing; and that one of her big trunks would have taken up half the bedroom.

Since that day, there is reason to believe, that the furniture has much improved; for besides the air of taste which is diffused over all the little stuccoed houses, they have boasted divers inhabitants of worship: and at No 5, for a short time, lived Count d'Orsay. We shall have more to say of this distinguished person a little further on, when we come to Gore House. But it is impossible to mention such a "glass of fashion, and mould of form," without stopping a moment to look at him with our "mind's eye;" and as care had not yet overtaken him while residing at this house, we cannot but observe at once

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how truly he merited the application of those words of Shakspeare.

To see d'Orsay coming up a lobby, or a drawing-room, was a sight; his face was so delicate, his figure so manly, and his white waistcoat so ample and august. We happened once to see him and O'Connell sitting opposite one another, the latter with a waistcoat to match; and we were at a loss to think which had the finer " thorax" of the two-the great Irishman, who thundered across the channel, or the magnificent French Adonis, who seemed to ennoble dandyism.

Over the doorway of No. 2 is a vase; and as old inhabitants do not remember when this vase was set up, it was not improbably a manifestation of his classical taste by a once much talked of person; for in this house, a little sequestered establishment was kept by

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as much over-estimated perhaps by his admirers, for a patriotism which was never thoroughly disinterested, as he was depreciated for a libertinism, by no means unaccompanied with good qualities. "Jack Wilkes," as he was familiarly called-member of parliament, alderman, fine gentleman, scholar, coarse wit, and middling writer, was certainly an " impudent dog," in more senses than that of " Jack Absolute" in the play. Excess of animal spirits, and the want of any depth of perception into some of the gravest questions, led him into outrages against decorum, that were justly denounced by all but the hypocritical. Nevertheless, the country is indebted to him for more than one benefit, particularly the freedom from arbitrary arrest; and the two daughters that Jack left behind him, illegitimate as well as legitimate, were models of well-educated, sensible women, as fond of

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their father, as he had shown himself fond of them. The popularity to which he had attained at one time, was immense. "Wilkes and Liberty," was the motto of the universal English nation. It was on every wall; sometimes on every door, and on every coach (to enable it to get along); it stamped the butter-pats, the biscuits, the handkerchiefs; in short, had so identified one word with the other, that a wit, writing to somebody, began his letter with, " Sir, I take the Wilkes and liberty to assure you."

Wilkes prospered so well by his patriotism, that he maintained three establishments at a time; one in the Isle of Wight, for the summer; another in Grosvenor Square, where his daughter Mary kept house for him; and the third at this place in , where his second daughter, Harriet, lived with her mother, a Mrs.

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Arnold, who assisted in training her with a propriety that must have been thought remarkable. The first daughter, who was as plain and as lively as her father, died unmarried, universally lamented. The other, a very agreeable lady, in face as well as in manners, we had the pleasure of seeing once, in company with her husband, the late estimable Sergeant Rough, who became a judge in India, and who deplored her loss.

A memorandum by Wilkes will show what high visitors he had, and how well he could entertain them.

"Mr. Swinburne dined with me last Sunday, with Monsieur Barthelemi, and the Counts Woronzow and Nesselrode. I gave them the chicken-turtle, dressed at the London Tavern, a haunch of venison, and was served by James and Samuel from Prince's Court, who behave very well. The day

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passed very cheerfully, and they all expressed themselves highly delighted."

Wilkes, who lived to a good age, owing probably to his love of exercise, was in the habit, to the last, of walking from to the city, deaf to the solicitations of the hackney-coachmen, and not at all minding, or rather, perhaps, courting, the attention of everybody else to an appearance, which must always have been remarkable. Personal defects deprecate or defy notice, according to the disposition of the individual. Wilkes was not disposed to deprecate anything. He was tall, meagre, and sallow, with an underhung, grinning, good-hu-moured jaw, and an obliquity of vision, which, however objectionable in the eyes of opponents, occasioned the famous vindication from a partizan, that its possessor did not "squint more than a gentleman should."

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Upon the strength of his having been a Colonel of Militia, the venerable patriot daily attired his person in a suit of scarlet and buff, with a rosette in his cocked-hat, and a pair of military boots; and the reader may fancy him thus coming towards Knightsbridge, ready to take off the hat in the highest style of good-breeding to anybody that courted it, or to give the gentleman " satisfaction," if he was disrespectful to the squint. For Wilkes was as brave as he was light-hearted. He was an odd kind of English-Frenchman, that had strayed into Farringdon Ward Without; and he ultimately mystified both King and people; for he was really of no party, but that of pleasure and a fine coat. The best thing about him was his love of his daughters; just as the pleasantest thing in the French is their walking about with their families on the

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Boulevards, after all the turbulence and volatility of their insurrections.

But an interest attaches to this house of Wilkes's, far beyond these pleasant anomalies; for here Junius visited. At this door, knocking towards dinner-time, might be seen a tall, good-looking gentleman, of an imposing presence, who, if anybody passing by had known who he was, and had chosen to go and tell it, might have been the making of the man's fortune. This was Philip Francis, afterwards one of the denouncers of Hastings, ultimately Sir Philip Francis, K.B., and now, since the publication of Mr. Taylor's book on the subject, understood to be that " mighty boar of the forest," as Burke called him, trampling down all before him, the author of "Junius's Letters." Mrs. Rough said, that he dined at frequently, and that he once cut off a lock

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of her hair. She was then a child. She only knew him as Mr. Francis; but she had "an obscure imagination that her father once said she had met Junius." He might so, in after days; but we feel convinced that Wilkes did not know him for Junius at the time. He treats the latter, in his correspondence, with a reverence which was not compatible with " Wilkes and liberty." He took Junius, we suspect, to be Burke or Chatham, probably the latter. He once, it is true, when Lord Mayor, invited the great unknown to a ball, adding, in a truly French style of classical allusion (then the tone of the day) how happy he should be to see " his Portia (Miss Wilkes) dance a graceful minuet with Junius Brutus." But Junius Brutus saw the absurdity of the conjunction; answering, "that he acknowledged the relation between 'Cato and Portia,' but in truth could see no

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connection between Junius and a minuet. His age and figure, too," he said, "would have done little credit to his partner." In a previous letter, Wilkes had said, that he did not mean to indulge " the impertinent curiosity of finding out the most important secret of our times, the author of 'Junius.' He would not attempt with profane hands to tear the veil of the sanctuary. He was disposed, with the inhabitants of Attica, to erect 'an altar to the unknown god' of our political idolatry, and would be content to worship him in clouds and darkness." Upon which not inelegant comparison, Junius, still keeping his state, though smiling with condescending pleasantry, observes, that he is "much flattered, as Mr. Wilkes politely intended he should be, with the worship he is pleased to pay to the unknown god. I find," he continues, "I am treated as other

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gods usually are by their votaries, with sacrifice and ceremony in abundance, and very little obedience. The profession of your faith is nexceptionable; but I am a modest deity, and should be full as well satisfied with good works and morality." This is admirable, and full of matter; but it is not the style that could have occurred between John Wilkes, Esquire, Sheriff of London, possessor of three establishments, and Mr. Francis, at that time Clerk in the War Office, and in the habit of dining at his table. We must add, that we take Lord Chatham, Burke, and Earl Temple, to have been in the secret of "Junius's Letters ;" that the two former objects of his admiration stimulated his manner, and that not improbably they occasionally furnished him with remarks. Nor would it have surprised us, had Temple turned out to be Junius himself.

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But this is not the place for discussing the question.

We take the opportunity of giving a variation of the story which Mr. Taylor relates respecting the behaviour of Sir Philip at the table of George the Fourth. " Sir Philip," says Mr. Taylor, "was impetuous, and somewhat abrupt in manner. He once interrupted George the Fourth at the royal table (and we are credibly informed that he frequently dined there) in the midst of a tedious story, with a ' Well, Sir, well!' "

Our version of this anecdote, without meaning to impugn Mr. Taylor's authority, which, not improbably, is the same as our own, differently reported, is, that Sir Philip being excessively tired, not only with the story in question, but with others of the same sort which he was in the habit of hearing at the same table, interrupted the

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royal narration with the politer, but not less significant words: "Well, and the result, Sir, if you please." The result was, that he was never invited more; and our informant added, that as such a penalty was certain, it is not improbable that it was deliberately incurred.

If any of our readers, who agree with Mr. Taylor in thinking Sir Philip Francis to have been Junius, should regret their never having seen that once invisible personage, we have the pleasure of informing them, that the portrait prefixed to the volume of "Junius Identified," is a fac-simile of the man. We met Sir Philip once coming down Bond Street, and knew him by the likeness.