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

Hunt, Leigh





WE have now come to Kensington High Street, and shall take our way on the lefthand side of it, continuing to do so through the whole town, and noticing the streets and squares that branch out of it as we proceed. We shall then turn at the end


of the town, and come back by Holland House, Campden House, and and Gardens.

On our right hand, over the way, is the Palace Gate with its sentinels; and opposite this gate, where we are halting, is a sturdy, good-sized house, a sort of undergrown mansion, singularly so for its style of building, and looking as if it must have been the work of Vanbrugh, one of whose edifices will be noticed further on. It is just in his "no nonsense" style; what his opponents called "heavy;" but very sensible and to the purpose; built for duration. It is only one story high, and looks as if it had been made for some rich old bachelor, who chose to live alone, but liked to have everything about him strong and safe.

Such was probably the case, for it is called Colby House, after a baronet of that


testate, and left more than £200,000 in the funds, which was shared among five or six day-labourers, who were his nearest relations."

"Who sees pale Mammon pine amidst his store, Sees but a backward steward for the poor."

The of , though the place is so near London, and contains so many new buildings, has a considerable resemblance to that of a country town. This is owing to the moderate size of the houses, to their general style of building (which is that of a century or two ago), and to the curious, though not obvious, fact, that not one of the fronts of them is exactly like another. It is also neat and clean; its abutment on a palace associates it with something of an air of refinement; and the first object that presents itself to the


name, who lived in the time of George the First, and who appears to have been a man of humble origin, and a miser. A spectator of the house might imagine, that the architect was stopped, when about to commence a third story, in order to save the expense. Dr. King, the Jacobite divine, who knew Colby, and who thinks he was a commissioner in the Victualling Office, says (in his " Literary and Political Anecdotes of His Own Times") that the baronet killed himself by rising in the middle of the night, when he was in a profuse perspiration (the consequence of a medicine taken to that effect), and going down stairs for the key of the cellar, which he had inadvertently left on the table. " He was apprehensive that his servants might seize the key, and rob him of a bottle of his port wine."

"This man," adds the Doctor " died inattention,


next after the sentinels at the Palace Gate, is a white and pretty lodge, at the entrance of the new road leading to Bayswater. The lodge, however, is somewhat too narrow. The road is called , and is gradually filling with mansions, some of which are in good taste and others in bad, and none of them have gardens, to speak of; so that the spectator does not well see why anybody should live there, who can afford to live in houses so large.

Pleasant, however, as the aspect of High Street is on first entering it, the eye has scarcely caught sight of the lodge just mentioned, when it encounters a sore in the shape of some poor Irish people hanging about, at the corner of the first turning on the left hand. They look like people from the old broken up establishment of Saint


Giles's, and probably are so; a considerable influx from the Rookery in that quarter having augmented the Rookery in this, for so it has alike been called. This Rookery has long been a nuisance in . In the morning you seldom see more of it than this indication of its entrance; but in the evening, the inmates mingle with the rest of the inhabitants out of doors, and the naked feet of children, and the ragged and dissolute looks of men and women, present a painful contrast to the general decency. We understand, however, that some of these poor people are very respectable of their kind, and that the improvements which are taking place in other portions of the kingdom, in consequence of the attention so nobly paid of late years to the destitute and uneducated, have not been without effect in this quarter. The men for the most


part are, or profess to be, labouring bricklayers, and the women, market-garden women. They are calculated, at a rough guess, to amount to a thousand; all crammed, perhaps, into a place which ought not to contain above a hundred. The reader, from late and painful statements on these subjects knows how they must dwell. The place is not much in sight. You give a glance, and a guess at it, as you look down the turning, and so pass on. There was a talk, not long since, of bringing the new road just mentioned, from over the way, and continuing it through the spot, so as to sweep it clean of the infection, as in the case of New Holborn and St. Giles's; and in all probability the improvement will take place; for one advance brings another, and has become of late so much handsomer as well as larger, that it will


hardly leave this ugly blemish on its beauty. But leases must expire, and lettings and sub-lettings for poor people die hard.

Most of this unhappy multitude are Roman Catholics. Their priests tell us of a fine house at Loreto in , which the Virgin Mary lived in at Nazareth, and which angels brought from that place into the dominions of the Pope. They also tell us, that miracles never cease; at least, not in Roman Catholic hands; and that nobody feels for the poor as they do. What a pity that they could not join these feelings, these hands, and these miracles, and pray a set of new houses into England for the poor bricklayers !

Continuing our way from this inauspicious corner, we come to the turning at Young Street, which leads into , formerly as important a place in this


suburb, as Grosvenor Square was in the metropolis.

occupies an area of some hundred and fifty feet, and was commenced in the reign of James the Second, and finished towards the close of that of William. It is now a place of obsolete-looking, though respectable houses, such as seem made to become boarding-schools, which some of them are; and you cannot help thinking it has a desolate air, though all its houses are inhabited. In the reigns of William, of Anne, and the first two Georges, was the most fashionable spot in the suburbs; it was filled with frequenters of the Court, and these are the identical homes which they inhabited. Faulkner says, that "at one time, upwards of forty carriages were kept in and about the neighbourhood;" and


that, "in the time of George the Second, the demand for lodgings was so great, that an ambassador, a bishop, and a physician, were known to occupy apartments in the same house.

The earliest distinguished name of an inhabitant of this spot, in the parish-books is that of the , in the year . We know not which house she lived in; but the reader must imagine her, after the good French fashion, taking her evening walk in the Square, the envy of surrounding petticoats, accompanied by a set of English and French gallants, Villierses, Godolphins, Ruvignys, &c., among whom is her daily visitor, and constant, adoring old friend, Saint Evremond, with his white locks, little skull cap, and the great wen on his forehead. He idolizes her to the very tips of her fingers, though


she borrowed his money, which he could ill afford-and gambled it away besides, which he could not but pray her not to do. He also begged her to resist the approaches of usquebaugh.

The Duchess was then six and forty, an Italian, with black hair, and, according to his description of her, still a perfect beauty. Fielding thought her so when she was younger, for he likens Sophia Western to her portrait.

Hortensia Mancini was niece of , at whose death (to use her own words, in the "Memoirs" which she dictated to Saint Real) she became " the richest heiress, and the unhappiest woman, in Christendom;" that is to say, she found she had got a jealous, mean bigot for her husband, who grudged her a handsome participation of the money which he obtained


with her. And as this was touching her on the tenderest point, she ran away from him in pure desperation, to see how she could enjoy herself elsewhere, and what funds to pay for it she could get out of him, by disclosing their quarrels to the world. The Duke (his name was Meilleraye, but he took the name of Mazarin when he married her) was inexorable, and not to be scandalized out of his meanness; so his wife, after divers wanderings, which got her scandalized in her turn, came into England on pretence of visiting her cousin , ; but, in reality, to get a pension from Charles the Second. This she did, to the amount of four thousand a year, every penny of which was probably grudged by the lavish king himself who could not afford it, and who is said to have been disgusted by her falling


in love with another man, the moment she got it. Charles, when in exile, had sued for Hortensia's hand in vain, from her uncle the Cardinal, who thought the royal prospects hopeless, and who was in fear of the Protector. Madame de Mazarin, however, continued to flourish among the ladies at , during Charles's reign; she had half her pension confirmed to her by ; did nothing, from first to last, but keep company, and gamble it away; and six years after her residence at Kensington, died so poor, at a small house in (the last, as you go from London, in Paradise Row), that her body was detained by her creditors till her husband redeemed it. The husband embalmed it; and, surviving her many years, is said (which is hardly credible) to have carried it about with him all that


time, wherever he went, as if determined on having the woman with him dead, who could not " abide " him while she was living.

has been so praised by Saint Evremond for every kind of good quality except prudence in money matters, and occasional fits of ill-humour, that, with all due allowance for the dotages to which old men are subject, and for his particular delight, as a French exile, in finding at her house a female friend, and a society with whom he could spend his evenings, it is not easy to coincide with the general opinion, which sets her down as a woman destitute of everything attractive, except her beauty. She probably understood his wit, and enjoyed it to his heart's content; for she appears to have had taste and reflection enough to hold no mean part in conversation;


and this would hinder her from falling into the common mistake of beauties, and thinking she could dispense with the wish to please. She used to intimate that her friends would regret her when she was gone; and St. Evremond appears heartily to have done so, though she borrowed hundreds out of his savings, and kept him in constant fright with her losses. The Duchess had been a spoilt child, and her hand was bestowed on a foolish man. When she was a girl, she tells us that she and her sisters one day threw upwards of three hundred louis out of window, for the pleasure of seeing a parcel of footmen scramble and fight for them. They must have been louis d'ors, or so many pounds sterling, a sum worth two or three times the amount at present; she says, that the amusement was thought to have hastened


her uncle's death. She was afterwards accused, while in a convent, where her husband had succeeded in " stowing" her for a time, of putting ink into the holy-water box (to smut the nun's faces,) and of frightening them out of their sleep at night, by running through the dormitory with a parcel of little dogs, yelping and howling. She says that these stories were either inventions or exaggerations; but we are strongly disposed to believe them. We mention the convent, because as such places are again subjects of conversation in this country, and matters of concern to our families, it may be useful to know what kind of scenes they have witnessed, comic as well as tragic.

But we must quit this glimpse of the days of , for a personage who suggests a wholly different set


of ideas, his figure having been unwieldy, and his dullness unfortunately no less conspicuous than his good morals. Here, somewhere about the south-west corner of the Square, lived, for several years, physician to , and butt of all the wits of the time, Johnson said they hated him more for his morals than his dullness; but though most of them were far from being immaculate, it was not in the nature of any of them to hate a man for what was good in him, much less of such persons as Garth and Steele. The truth is, that Blackmore began the warfare by attacking the wits; and as he wrote heaps of dull poetry, it was not to be expected that they should spare their assailant merely because his clumsy blows were dealt as heavily as he could bestow them, out of a good motive.


They might even doubt the entire goodness of motive in a man who understood his qualifications in other respects so ill; and, indeed, there seems to have been nothing to show for the motive, except the blows; for though Blackmore was, in all probability, what is called a respectable man, there is no evidence of his having possessed more than the average amount of virtue, or any such particular experience or self-knowledge, as might supply the place of excellence. Some of the wits, too, who advocated a milder form of Christianity than he did, might have doubted the very piety of some of his dogmas, and thus have been induced to treat his arrogation of a right to lecture them with double contempt; and none of them, as critics, were bound to overlook the presumption of a poetaster, who made no scruple to denounce folly and ignorance


in others, and to trumpet forth his own claims as a censor and a man of genius. The "Creation" is a favourable specimen of Blackmore. There is a horrible facility of mediocrity about it. But of his works in general that condemned him, who now shall judge ? for who possesses them ? Let the reader take a couplet from the lines quoted by Garth in his " Dispensary."

" Naked and half burnt hills, with hideous wrack, Affright the sky, andfry the ocean's back."

Imagine the following tomes, written by such a pen:

"Creation," a philosophical poem, in seven books.

"The Redeemer," a poem, in six books.

"Eliza," a poem, in ten books.



"Prince Arthur," an heroic poem, in ten books.

"King Arthur," an heroic book, in ten books.

" King Alfred," a poem, in twelve books.

And to stay his stomach between whiles besides a number of medical and theological treatises, he versifies the whole body of Psalms, and makes a paraphrase of the " Book of Job," by way of extending the lesson on patience. To talk of morality and good intentions, as things that should have saved such a "long-winded lubber" from the retorts of the wits, was as idle as it would be to talk of the morality of a concert of frogs, or the good intentions of the drone of a Lincolnshire bag-pipe. Blackmore was a man who could not allow for margin, yet nobody made greater demands upon it.



Let us turn to a good old prelate, Hough, Bishop of Winchester, who lived in this square several years, and whom we mention for three reasons: first because, when elected President of Magdalen College, Oxford, he had resisted, with equal temper and firmness, the arbitrary conduct of , in forcing a Roman Catholic into his place; second, because he lived to reach his ninety-third year, which we take to be a merit in a bishop, considering the table he is expected to keep, and the plethora which is pardoned to episcopal virtues; and third, because the habitual sweetness of his disposition (and we consider the least proof of such a habit to be no anti-climax in this enumeration) enabled him to give dignity to a pun.

A young clergyman, curate of a neighbouring parish, says his biographer, Mr.


Wilmot, taking leave of him one day, and making many awkward bows, ran against, and threw down on the floor, a favourite barometer of the Bishop's. The man was frightened, and extremely concerned; but the good old prelate, with all the complacency possible, said to him, "Don't be uneasy, Sir. I have observed this glass almost daily for upwards of seventy years, but I never saw it so low before."

It may seem, on reading this anecdote, that, to render the Bishop's behaviour perfect, the mention of the seventy years might have been spared; but in so excellent a man we must look upon it as a piece of refined delicacy, enhancing the kindly nonchalance of the conclusion.

Two other prelates are mentioned as having lived in , and all three are worth recording. The first was


Mawson, Bishop of Ely, "awkward and absent," and with " no desire to please," says an equivocal panegyrist; meaning, in modern parlance, no desire to curry favour; but a man of princely munificence. He was the son of a brewer at Chiswick; founder, we hope, of that orthodox drink, the "fine Chiswick ale." Mawson did not live so long as Hough, but he attained a very respectable longevity. He died in the year , at theage of eighty-eight. Perhaps the Kensington air was of use to the good bishops.

The other prelate was Herring, Bishop of Bangor, afterwards Primate, and author of some of the best letters in the "Elegant Epistles." He occupied the house at the north-east corner of the square; but he died at Croydon, in . Herring made a mistake, when he attacked the Beggar's


Opera; for which Swift gave him a tremendous rebuke. He had better have attacked the morals of the great world, of which the opera was a parody. But he probably outlived the misconception; for he was a man of a genial nature, and had a true taste in literature. It is curious, however, to see on which side of the question lay worldly prosperity. Gay, who attacked the morals of the great, and Swift, who defended the attack, missed the preferments they looked for; while Herring, who may have been thought to defend the morals, became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Herring seemed born to be an archbishop. He was grave yet insinuating, had a sweet voice and a majestic appearance; "a countenance (as Sydney Smith says) expressive of all the cardinal virtues and the Ten Commandments." Strange are the vicissitudes


of houses. In this same abode of the magnificent-looking prelate, lived, some fifty years afterwards, a man with a club-foot, who had also been a prelate, but had unfrocked himself to become a statesman, and who, instead of embodying " all the cardinal virtues and the Ten Commandments," was thought by most people to have violated every injunction in the Decalogue, This was Talleyrand, a diplomatist under every government in , from the beginning of the Revolution to that of Louis Philippe inclusive, with the exception of the Reign of Terror. We believe him, nevertheless, to have been a very calumniated person. That he had led the ordinary life of a young French noble, under the old regime, is very likely; and that he had no taste for being a martyr, is equally so. It is easy also to palm upon a wit


and man of the world every clever saying that seems to tell against political honesty. But, for the most part, Talleyrand did good to the world under his different masters; hindered them from being worse; and was for promoting constitutional government. He lost Napoleon's favour by his tendencies that way, and by his protest against the iniquitous seizure of . The Emperor's decline dates from the period of his differences with Talleyrand. While yet a bishop, Talleyrand advocated the rights of the working clergy; and he appears to have been a man of amiable private intercourse. Let justice be done to the club-foot that made the best, instead of the worst of things; not always the way with injured members of society. Perhaps it will not be thought an anticlimax in this commercial country-indeed it is a good


ground of eulogium anywhere--if we finish this tribute to his memory, by quoting what is said of him during his residence in this square, by the Kensington historian: to wit, that "his character was marked by urbanity of manners, and by strict punctuality in his payments."