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

Hunt, Leigh





BUT we must not stop longer with Mr. Elphinstone. Of the school kept by the Jesuits, an account so entertaining has been left by Mr. Shell in the Memoirs prefixed to the volume of his Speeches, that, although it is somewhat long, the reader, we are sure, will be glad to have the whole of it, especially as it does not seem to be generally known, and the regrets of the world are


yet fresh at the loss of that distinguished orator and member of parliament.

How the smile of the French Abbé, " made up of guile and meekness," could deserve to be called "amiable, in the best sense of the word," we cannot say. But nothing can surpass the descriptions of the rest of the little man, glossy all over with his black silk habiliments; of the emigrant school-boys rejoicing in the victories obtained by the country which had rejected them, at the expense of that which had given them shelter; and of poor unteachable Charles the Tenth, thrilling at the names of the little boys introduced to him, and not foreseeing that he would have to thrill at them over again, after repossessing the throne of to no purpose.

"I landed at Bristol," says Mr. Sheil,


recording his first coming from , "and with a French clergyman, the Abbé de Grimeau, who had been my tutor, I proceeded to London. The Abbé informed me, that I was to be sent to , a college established by the Peres de la Foi, for so the French Jesuits settled in England at that time call themselves; and that he had directions to leave me there upon his way to Languedoc, from whence he had been exiled in the Revolution, and to which he had been driven by the maladie de pays to return. Accordingly, he set off for , which is situated exactly opposite the avenue leading to the Palace, and has the beautiful garden attached to it in front. A large iron gate, wrought into rusty flowers, and other fantastic forms, showed that the Jesuit school had once been the residence of some person of distinction;


and I afterwards understood, that a mistress of Charles the Second lived in the spot which was now converted into one of the sanctuaries of Ignatius. It was a large, old fashioned house, with many remains of decayed splendour. In a beautiful walk of trees, which ran down from the rear of the building, through the play-ground, I saw several French boys playing at swing-swang; and the moment I entered, my ears were filled with the shrill vociferations of some hundreds of little emigrants, who were engaged in their various amusements, and babbled, screamed, laughed, and shouted, in all the velocity of their rapid and joyous language. I did not hear a word of English, and at once perceived that I was as much amongst Frenchmen as if I had been suddenly transferred to a Parisian college. Having got this peep at the gaiety


of the school, into which I was to be introduced, I was led with my companion to a chamber covered with faded gilding, and which had once been richly tapestried; where I found the head of the establishment, in the person of a French nobleman, Monsieur le Prince de Broglie. Young as I was, I could not help being struck at once with the contrast which was presented between the occupations of this gentleman and his name. I saw in him a little, slender, and gracefully-constructed Abbe with a sloping forehead, on which the few hairs that were left him, were nicely arranged, and well-powdered and pomatumed. He had a gentle smile, full of a suavity which was made up of guile and of weakness, but which deserved the designation of amiable, in the best sense of the word. His clothes were adapted with a peculiar nicety to his symmetrical


person; and his silk waistcoat and black stockings, with his small shoes buckled with silver, gave him altogether a glossy aspect. This was the son of the celebrated Marshal Broglie, who was now the head of a school, and notwithstanding his humble pursuits, was designated by everybody as ' Monsieur le Prince.'

" Monsieur le Prince had all the manners and attitudes of the Court, and by his demeanour put me at once in mind of the old regime. He welcomed my French companion with tenderness, and having heard that he was about to return to , the poor gentleman exclaimed, "Helas !" while the tears came into his eyes at the recollection of "cette belle ," which he was never, as he thought, to see again. He bade me welcome. These preliminaries of introduction having been gone through, my


French tutor took his farewell; and as he embraced me for the last time, I well remember that he was deeply affected by the sorrow which I felt in my separation from him, and turning to Monsieur le Prince, recommended me to his care with an emphatic tenderness. The latter led me into the school-room, where I had a desk assigned to me beside the son of the Count Decar, who has since, I understand, risen to offices of very high rank in the French Court. His father belonged to the nobility of the first class. In the son, it would have been, at that time, difficult to detect his patrician derivation. He was a huge, lubberly fellow, with thick matted hair, which he never combed. His complexion was greasy and sudorific, and to soap and water he seemed to have such a repugnance, that he did not, above once a week, go through any process


of ablution. He was surly, dogged, and silent, and spent his time in the study of mathematics, for which he had a good deal of talent. I have heard that he is now one of the most fashionable and accomplished men about the Court, and that this Gorgonius smells now of the pastiles of Rufillus.

" On the other side of me was a young French West Indian, from the colony of Martinique, whose name was Devarieux. The school was full of the children of the French planters, who had been sent over to learn English among the refugees from the revolution. He was an exceedingly fine young fellow, the exact reverse in all his habits to Monsieur le Comte Decar on my left hand, and expended a good deal of his hours of study in surveying a small pocket-mirror, and in arranging the curls of his rich black hair, the ambrosial plenty of


which was festooned about his temples, and fell profusely behind his head.

"Almost all the French West Indians were vain, foppish, generous, brave, and passionate. They exhibited many of the qualities which we ascribe to the natives of our own islands in the American Archipelago; they were a sort of Gallican Belcours in little; for with the national attributes of their forefathers, they united much of that vehemence and habit of domination, which a hot sun and West India overseership are calculated to produce. In general, the children of the French exiles amalgamated readily with these Creoles: there were, to be sure, some points of substantial difference; the French West Indians being all rich roturiers, and the little emigrants having their veins full of the best blood of , without a groat in their pockets.


But there was one point of reconciliation between them-they all concurred in hating England and its government. This detestation was not very surprising in the West Indian French; but it was not a little singular, that the boys, whose fathers had been expelled from by the revolution, and to whom England had afforded shelter, and given bread, should manifest the ancient national antipathy, as strongly as if they had never been nursed at her bosom, and obtained their aliment from her bosom.

" Whenever news arrived of a victory won by Bonaparte, the whole school was thrown into a ferment; and I cannot, even at this distance of time, forget the exultation with which the sons of the decapitated, or the exile, hailed the triumph of the French arms, the humiliation of England, and the glory of the nation whose greatness


they had learned to lisp. There was one boy I recollect more especially. I do not now remember his name, but his face and figure I cannot dismiss from my remembrance. He was a little effeminate creature, with a countenance that seemed to have been compounded of the materials with which waxen babies are made; his fine flaxen hair fell in girlish ringlets about his face, and the exquisite symmetry of his features would have rendered him a fit model for a sculptor, who wished to throw the beau ideal of pretty boyhood into stone. He had upon him a sickly expression, which was not sufficiently pronounced to excite any disagreeable emotions but cast over him a mournful look, which was seconded by the calamities of his family, and added to the lustre of misfortune which attended him. He was the


child of a nobleman who had perished in the revolution. His mother, a widow, who resided in a miserable lodging in London, had sent him to , but it was well known that he was received there by the Prince de Broglie from charity; and I should add, that his eleemosynary dependance, so far from exciting towards him any of that pity which is akin to contempt, contributed to augment the feeling of sympathy which the disasters of his family had created in his regard. This unfortunate little boy was a Frenchman to his heart's core, and whenever the country which was wet with his father's blood had added a new conquest to her possessions, or put Austria or Prussia to flight, his pale cheek used to flush into a hectic of exultation, and he would break into joyfulness at the achievements by which was exalted, and the


pride and power of England were brought down. This feeling, which was conspicuous in this little fellow, ran through the whole body of Frenchmen, who afforded very unequivocal proof of the sentiments by which their parents were influenced. The latter I used occasionally to see. Old gentlemen, the neatness of whose attire was accompanied by indications of indigence, used occasionally to visit at . Their elasticity of back, the frequency and gracefulness of their wellregulated bows, and the perpetual smile upon their wrinkled and emaciated faces, showed that they had something to do with the "vieille cour," and this conjecture used to be confirmed by the embrace with which they folded the little marquises and counts whom they came to visit.

" was frequented by emigrants of very high rank. The father


of the present Duke de Grammont, who was at this school, and was then Duke de Guiche, often came to see his son. I recollect upon one occasion having been witness to a very remarkable scene. Monsieur, as he was then called, the present King of , waited one day, with a large retinue of French nobility, upon the Prince de Broglie. The whole body of the school-boys was assembled to receive him. We were gathered in a circle at the bottom of a flight of stone stairs, that led from the principal room into the play-ground. The future King of appeared with his cortege of illustrious exiles, at the glass folding-doors which were at the top of the stairs, and the moment he was seen, we all exclaimed, with a shrill shout of beardless loyalty, 'Vive le Roi!' Monsieur seemed greatly gratified by this spectacle, and in


a very gracious and condescending manner, went down amongst the little boys, who were at first awed a good deal by his presence, but were afterwards speedily familiarized to him by the natural benignity of Charles the Tenth. He asked the names of those who were about him, and when he heard them, and saw in the boys by whom he was encompassed, the descendants of some of the noblest families of , he seemed to be sensibly affected. One or two names, which were associated with peculiarly melancholy recollections, made him thrill. 'Helas ! mon enfant!' he used to say, as some orphan was brought up to him; and he would then lean down to caress the child of a friend, who had perished on the scaffolds of the Revolution."[1] 



Poor Charles the Tenth! himself one of the least of children in the greatest of schools, adversity; which he left, only to be sent back to it, and die.

While these extracts of ours respecting the schoolmaster and schoolfellows of Mr. Sheil have been going through the press, we have had the pleasure of seeing a piece of biography make its appearance, at once loving and candid, which enables us to add to them a highly characteristic portrait, in his school-days, of the distinguished Irishman himself. It was furnished to the author by a learned judge, (Mr. Justice Ball,) who had been one of his schoolfellows. " His first appearance (he says) I recollect well; it was strikingly grotesque. His face was pale and meagre; his limbs lank; his hair


starting upwards from his head like a brush; a sort of muscular action pervading his whole frame; his dress foreign; his talk broken English, and his voice a squeak. Add to this a pair of singularly brilliant eyes, lighting up all the peculiarities of his figure, and you have before you the boy Sheil. His performances were at first as singular as his person. His efforts to kick a football were sui generis. He never engaged in the game along with the other boys, but kept aloof, occupied in reading, or walking about the playground; but whenever the ball was thrown across his path, he used to dart at it with a frantic energy, his legs and arms all pretty equally on the stretch, so that it was out of the question to determine with what limb he would assail the ball, until a kick at it probably from the left leg, solved the problem; and then back he would


go to his reading, amid the yells of the urchins, enraged at his disturbing their game."[2] 

For characters of the full-grown Sheil, bodily and mental, who for the most part was a rare and most interesting compound of far-sighted judgment and immediate impulse, we must refer to the work itself. Sheil was not an unprosperous man; but he ought to have been still more prosperous, and lived to combine old age with a sort of perennial youth; for such was the tendency of his nature.

We know not how long the school of the Abbe de Broglie lasted; but in the year , Kensington House was a Catholic boarding establishment, kept by a Mr. and Mrs. Salterelli.



" In the chapel," says Boaden, in his 'Memoirs of Mrs. Inchbald,' "the Archbishop of Jerusalem performed mass regularly during the early part of his residence; and the Abbe Mathias officiated, when the Primate quitted the house. The society was extremely genteel and cheerful, changing, however, too frequently for perfect cordiality and the formation of intimacy. The Schiavonetti's, however, seem to be acquaintances; and Mrs. Beloe, and Mr. Skeene from Aberdeen, were old friends, who, on their arrival, met with an unlooked-for pleasurethe celebrated artists, Mr. and Mrs. Cosway, upon leaving Stratford Place, were at Kensington House from August to October, before they settled upon a house in the Edgeware Road."[3] 



Here Mrs. Inchbald spent the last two years of her life; and here, on the 1st of August, , she died; we fear-how shall we say it of so excellent a woman, and in the sixty-eighth year of her age?of tight-lacing. But she had been very handsome, was still handsome, was growing fat, and had never liked to part with her beauty. Who that is beautiful, does ?

"The health of Mrs. Inchbald," says her biographer, "was very indifferent this year (); and her spirits sympathized with her frame. In the month of March, she was a good deal disturbed by the symptoms of a complaint, which intermitted, but never entirely left her. After undressing for bed, she felt a sensation of tightness in her waist, which she naturally enough attributed to the habit of drawing rather


too closely the strings of her under apparel."[4] 

And after her death, he says: "As we cannot speak professionally, we shall only say, that it seems probable the tightness of which she formerly complained was the indication of that malady (internal inflammation) which did not quit the frame, though it remitted its attacks, and, latent, awaited only the excitement of a cold to render her recovery impracticable."[5] 

We have dwelt a little on this point, as a warning; if tight lacers can take warning. We almost fear they would sooner quote Mrs. Inchbald as an excuse than an admonition. But, at all events, beauties of sixty-eight may, perhaps, consent to be a little startled.

If this was a weakness in Mrs. Inchbald,


let tight-lacers resemble her in other respects, and if their rickety children can forgive them, the rest of the world may very heartily do so. Mrs. Inchbald never had any children, to need their forgiveness. She was a woman of rare endowments: a beauty, a dramatist, a novelist, a successful actress; yet possessed of virtue so rare, that she would practice painful self-denial, in order to afford deeds of charity. Her acting was, perhaps, of the sensible, rather than artistical sort; and though some of her plays and farces have still their seasons of re-appearance on the stage, she was too much given as a dramatist to theatrical and sentimental effects -too melo-dramatic; but her novels are admirable, particularly the 'Simple Story,' which has all the elements of duration-invention, passion, and thorough truth to nature in word and deed. To balance the


advantages which she possessed over other people, she must needs have had some faults; and we take them (besides the tight-lacing) to have been those of temper and stubbornness. Charles Lamb speaks of her, somewhere, as the "beautiful vixen." The word must surely have been too strong for such a woman; who is said to have possessed both the respect and affection of all who knew her. If our memory does not deceive us, he applies it to her upon an occasion when she might well have been angry, and when she thought herself bound to resort to measures of self-defence, physical as well as moral. A distinguished actor who was enamoured of her, and who seems to have been a warmer lover off the stage than he was upon it, persisted one day in forcing upon her salutations which appeared so alarming, that the lady seized him by the


pigtail, and tugged it with a vigour so efficacious, as forced him to desist in trepidation. She related the circumstance to a friend, adding, with a touch of her comic humour, which must have been heightened by the difficulty of getting out the words (for she stammered sometimes), " How lucky that he did not w-w-wear a w-w-w-wig !"

Mrs. Inchbald lived in several other houses in Kensington, which shall be noticed as we pass them; for the abodes of the authoress of the ' Simple Story' make classic ground.


[1] The Speeches of the Right Honourable Richard Lalor Sheil, M.P., with a Memoir, &c." Edited by Thomas Macnevin, Esq., Barrister-at-Law. 1845, p. 11.

[2] "Memoirs of the Right Honourable Richard Lalor Sheil. By W. Torrens M'Cullagh, author of the " Industrial History of Free Nations," &c. Vol.I., p. 23.

[3] Vol. II., p. 260.

[4] P. 262.

[5] P. 275.