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

Hunt, Leigh





THE estates purchased by the Commissioners for the site and grounds of the new National Gallery include those just described, which consist of about twenty acres; and it will, probably, when all the purchases are completed, approach to a hundred. It widens as it goes south, and reaches to Old Brompton.



From this point to the town of we pass houses both old and new, some in rows, and some by themselves, enclosed in gardens. They are all more or less good; and the turnings out of them lead into a considerable district, which has lately been converted from nursery and garden-ground into more streets, and is called New Town. It is all very clean and neat, and astonishes visitors who a few years ago beheld scarcely a house on the spot. A pleasant hedge-lane, paved in the middle, and looking towards the wooded grounds of Gloucester Lodge, where Canning lived, leads out of it into Old Brompton. One street, which has no thoroughfare, is quite of a stately character, though deformed at the corner with one of those unmeaning rounded towers, whose tops look like pepper-boxes, or "Trifles from


Margate." The smaller streets also partake of those improvements, both external and internal, which have succeeded to the unambitious, barrack-like streets of a former generation; nor in acquiring solidity, have they, for the most part, been rendered heavy and dumpy; the too common fault of new buildings in the suburbs. It is ridiculous to see lumpish stone balconies constructed for the exhibition of a few flower-pots; and doors, and flights of steps, big enough for houses of three stories, put to "cottages" of one. Sometimes, in these dwarf suburban grandiosities, the steps look as weighty as half the building; sometimes the door alone reaches from the ground to the story above it; so that " cottages " look as if they were inhabited by giants, and the doorways as if they had been maximized, on purpose to enable them to go in.



This lies chiefly between the Gloucester and Victoria Roads. Returning out of the latter into the high road, we pass the remainder of the buildings above noticed, and, just before entering itself, halt at an old mansion, remarkable for its shallowness compared with its width, and attracting the attention by the fresh look of its red and pointed brick-work. It is called , and surpasses Gore House in the varieties of its history; for it has been, first, the habitation of a king's mistress; then a school kept by an honest pedant, whom Johnson visited; then a French emigrant school, which had noblemen among its teachers, and in which the late Mr. Sheil was brought up; then a Roman Catholic boarding-house, with Mrs. Inchbald for an inmate; and now it is an "asylum," a term into which that


consideration for the feelings which so honourably marks the progress of the present day, has converted the plain-spoken " madhouse " of our ancestors.

The king's mistress was the once famous Duchess of Portsmouth, a Frenchwoman,- Louise de Querouaille-who first came to England in the train of Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans, the sister of Charles the Second. She returned; and remained, for the express purpose (it is said) of completing the impression she had made on Charles, and assisting the designs of Louis the Fourteenth and the Jesuits in making him a papist, and reducing him to the treasonable condition of a pensioner on the French Court. Traitor and pensioner, at all events, his Majesty became, and the French woman became an English Duchess; but whether she was a party to the plot, or simply its unconscious instrument,


she has hardly had justice done to her, we think, by the historians. She appears to have been a somewhat silly person (Evelyn says she had a "baby face"); she was bred in at a time when it was a kind of sacred fashion to admire the mistresses of Louis the Fourteenth, and think them privileged concubines; she had probably learnt, in the convent where she was brought up, that lawless things might become lawful, to serve religious ends; and she was visited during her elevation by her own parents-straightforward, unaffected people, according to Evelyn-the father a "good fellow," who seems at once to have rejoiced in her position, and yet to have sought no advantages from it. The Duchess, it is true, ultimately got as much for herself as she could, out of the King. She was as lavish as he was; became poor, a gambler,


and a gourmande; that is to say, gave way to every innocent propensity, as she might have thought it, which came across her; and as her occupation of the house at appears to have been subsequent to the reign of Charles, it probably took place on one of her visits to England during the reigns of William the Third and George the First; on which latter occasion she is supposed to have endeavoured to get a pension from the English government -on what grounds it would be curious to know. But the "baby-face" probably thought it all right. We take her to have been a thoroughly conventional, commonplace person, with no notions of propriety but such as were received at Court, and quite satisfied with everything, here and hereafter, as long as she had plenty to eat, drink, and play at cards with, and a confessor


to make all smooth, in case of collateral peccadilloes. [1] The jumble of things religious and profane was carried to such a height in those days, that a picture representing the Duchess and her son (the infant Duke of Richmond) in the characters of "Virgin and Child," was painted for a convent in , and actually used as an altar-piece. They thought her an instrument


in the hands of God for the restoration of Popery.

Adieu to the " baby-face," looking out of the windows at , in hope of some money from King George; and hail to that of the good old pedagogue, James Elphinstone, reformer of spelling, translator of "Martial," and friend of Dr. Johnson. He is peering up the road, to see if his great friend is looming in the distance; for dinner is ready, and he is afraid that the veal stuffed with plums (a favourite dish of the Doctor's) will be spoilt.

Mr. Elphinstone prospered in his school, but failed in his reformation of spelling, which was on the phonetic principle (one of his books on the subject was entitled " Propriety's Pocket Dictionary"), and he made such a translation of "Martial,"


that his friend Strahan, the printer-but the circumstance must be told out of Boswell.

GARRICK. "Of all the translations that ever were attempted, I think Elphinstone's 'Martial' the most extraordinary. He consulted me upon it, who am a little bit of an epigrammatist, myself, you know. I told him freely, 'you don't seem to have that turn.' I asked him if he was serious; and finding he was, I advised him against publishing. Why, his translation is more difficult to understand than the original. I thought him a man of some talents; but he seems crazy in this."

JOHNSON. "Sir, you have done what I had not courage to do. But he did not ask my advice, and I did not force it upon him, to make him angry with me."

GARRICK. " But as a friend, Sir."



JOHNSON. "Why, such a friend as I am with him-no."

GARRICK. " But if you see a friend going to tumble over a precipice ?"

JOHNSON. "That is an extravagant case, Sir. You are sure a friend will thank you for hindering him from tumbling over a precipice; but, in the other case, I should hurt his vanity, and do him no good. He would not take my advice. His brother-in-law, Strahan, sent him a subscription of fifty pounds, and said he would send him fifty more, if he would not publish."

GARRICK. " What, eh! is Strahan a good judge of an epigram? Is he not rather an obtuse man, eh ?"

JOHNSON. "Why, Sir, he may not be a judge of an epigram; but you see he is a judge of what is not an epigram."

That our readers may judge for themselves,


especially as the book is very rare, and nobody who speaks of Elphinstone quotes it, we add a specimen or two. We confess they are not "favourable specimens;" but they are not unjust.

" TO TIE SUBSCRIBER. "If Martial meekly woo'd Subscription's charms, Subscription, gracious, met a Martial's arms; Contagious taste illum'd th' imperial smile, And, Julius' greater, Martial, won our ile." BOOK IV., PART II., EPIGRAM 16


" ON APOLLODORUS-TO REGULUS. " Five for Ten, and for Lusty he greeted you Lean, As for Free he saluted you Bond. Now he, Ten, Free, and Lusty articulates clean. Oh! what pains can! He wrote, and he conn'd."

Not a word of explanation; though the book is full of the longest and most superfluous comments. It is a quarto of six


hundred pages, price a guinea in boards; and among its hundreds of subscribers are the leading nobility and men of letters. So prosperous had some real learning, and a good character rendered the worthy schoolmaster.[2] 

Elphinstone had won Johnson's heart by taking charge of a Scotch edition of the " Rambler." He also translated the Latin mottoes at the head of the papers; and did it in a manner that gave little or no token of the coming "Martial." Johnson, Jortin (of whom more hereafter), and, we believe, Franklin, visited him at this house.



"I am going this evening (says Johnson) to put young Otway to school with Mr. Elphinstone."[3] 

Otway is an interesting name. One should like to know whether he was of the poet's race. It is pleasant, also, to fancy the Doctor, then in his sixty-fourth year, walking hand-in-hand down the road with the little boy.

"On Monday, April 19, , he called on me," says Boswell, "with Mrs. Williams, in Mr. Strahan's coach, and carried me out to dine with Mr. Elphinstone, at his academy at . Mr. Elphinstone talked of a new book that was much admired, and asked Dr. Johnson if he had read it.

"I have looked into it."



"What," said Elphinstone, "have you not read it through ?"

Johnson, offended at being thus pressed, and so obliged to own his cursory mode of reading, answered tartly, " No, Sir. Do you read books through ?"[4] 

The book that was "much admired," was probably one that differed with Boswell and the Doctor in opinion, otherwise his biographer, who is full of shabby suppressions of this kind, might have added the title, or not have mentioned the work at all.

It is said in Faulkner's "History of ," that Elphinstone was "ludicrously characterized in Smollett's 'Roderick Randon,' which, in consequence, became a forbidden book in his school." But none of the brutal schoolmasters of Smollett resemble


the gentle pedagogue of . The book might have been forbidden out of consideration for the common character of the profession; to say nothing of other reasons.


[1] Our countrymen, who hated the Duchess because she was a Frenchwoman (and with reason, considering what was thought to be her mission) converted her name, Querouaille, into Carwell; which was nearer perhaps the French word than they fancied; for Brittany, her native province, received a portion of its inhabitants from Cornwall, where Car and Huel are component words; and it still presents names of places and persons, corresponding with Cornish appellations. Among them is (or was, in the time of Madame de Sevigne) a family of the name of Cornouailles; which was sometimes written Cornuel, and is the way in which they spell the name of the English county.

[2] "The Epigrams of M. Val. Martial, in Twelve Books; with a Comment, by James Elphinstone," 1782. It is due to Mr. Hookham to state, that we found this rare volume in his excellent, indeed unique, circulating library, which contains the miscellaneous reading of several generations.

[3] Letter to Mrs. Thrale.

[4] Croker's "Boswell," Vol. vIII., p. 267.