In and Out of London Or, the Half-holidays of a Town Clerk

Loftie, W. J.





A HUNDRED years ago and upwards London was surrounded at a short distance by villas: they could be reached from town in about the same time by a coach and four which it now takes us to get thirty miles into the country. Such were Arlington House, now Buckingham Palace; Nottingham House, now Kensington Palace; Canons, Tottenham Court, and, in older times, Havering, Greenwich, and Kennington. Montagu House (now the British Museum), and Bedford House (the gardens of which remain as Bedford Square), Apsley House, and Burlington House, were a little nearer home; but excepting those which are more or less in public hands, as national institutions or royal palaces, almost all have been overwhelmed by the tide of brick and mortar which daily creeps further and obliterates more and more the gardens and green fields. Fulham Manor House, the country residence or of the Bishop of London, is an exception, as we shall see in the next chapter; but it has little of the picturesque to recommend it to


sight-seers, although it is probably the oldest inhabited house in England. Lambeth Palace is, strictly speaking, a town house; and it would not be easy for me to name a third suburban residence of the kind if I pass over that whose name heads this page.

Holland House, therefore, is interesting to Londoners as the relic of an age and a phase of manners now long gone by. And it is, moreover, interesting intrinsically for three things in which it has few rivals in England: its beauty, its historical associations, and the works of art it contains. It is, to begin with the first of these, a very charming specimen of a style of architecture which should commend itself to the tastes of Englishmen, as the last of native growth. The development of art in building presents a regular series or succession, from the days when our Saxon ancestors dwelt in wooden huts or in hovels of mud and stone to the days when Sir Walter Cope founded the centre and turrets of Cope Castle, in the manor of Kensington, and when his son-in-law, the first Earl of Holland, changed its name to Holland House, and completed the building. There is perhaps no contrast in nature more pleasing than the artificial one between red brick and green trees. It makes even the square, pseudo-Italian mansion of the Georgian period look picturesque in a well-timbered park; and as we approach Holland House from among the narrow crowded streets or the lath-and-plaster of the new suburbs, the views through an avenue of


ancient elms, green even in London, of the quaint red turrets, the shaped gables, the arcaded terraces, the many-paned oriels, are twice as charming as anything that has been built so near London since. We first see the south side of the house. It is the most picturesque, and was formerly the front. But now the avenue passes to the east of the house, and the hall door is at what used to be the back. Beyond are the pleasure-grounds and the Dutch garden, with their yew hedges, clipped borders, heavy cedars, statues, avenues, arbours, and archways. Everything is in the state in which our generation found it when they came into the world. Nothing of any importance has been altered, for though the public entrance is now on the north, the fabric of the building is hardly disturbed. As I have said, the old entrance was at the south side; facing it were 's piers and gateway, and the front of the house was thus first approached by the visitor. Now, the piers have been removed to a terrace in the pleasure-ground; the porch leads only into a garden, and the chief entrance is at the eastern side. On the whole, however, few exteriors of the period have been less altered than this, a fact the more remarkable when we remember the number of different families by which the estate has been held, and its so dangerous proximity to the metropolis.

The mention of the different owners to whom the place has belonged brings us to the historical associations


which crowd about Holland House. It may be said that any house more than two centuries old and less than two miles from London must be full of such memories. This is, perhaps, true; but the names which occur to the memory with the mention of Holland House are such as no other place of the kind can boast. Lord Macaulay, himself something more than a name to be only mentioned in this connection, says of it in a famous essay, and speaking only of one generation, that the survivors- now, alas! few, if any-will remember how the last debate was discussed in one corner of the Library and the last comedy of Scribe in another,

while Wilkie gazed with modest admiration on Sir Joshua's Baretti, while Mackintosh turned over Thomas Aquinas to verify a quotation, while Talleyrand related his conversation with Barras at the Luxembourg, or his ride with Lannes over the field of Austerlitz.

These are only the names of one generation; but in a charmingly illustrated book, written by a lady[1]  who long resided at Holland House, we are enabled to trace the steps of many other great men and women, and to bring the history and memories of the place down to the present day. There are so many interesting facts to be recalled that it would be impossible, in our present limits, to do more than mention a tithe of them. But as the history of a lady who narrowly missed becoming


Queen of England occurs among them, and is, on the whole, less known than some of the others, I will confine myself for a few pages to it alone. I may take her story, then, passing by the many anecdotes of Addison, of Charles James Fox and others of his name, of the first Lady Holland (Lady Sarah's sister), of the second Lady, of the third, who is the Lady Holland of Macaulay, of Sydney Smith, Lord Lansdowne, Hookham Frere, Rogers, Brougham, and many more whose lives belong either to the history of our literature, or to that of the country at large.

Lady Sarah Lennox was the daughter of Charles, second Duke of Richmond, grandson of Charles II. and the Duchess of Portsmouth. Her mother was Sarah, daughter and co-heiress of William, first Earl Cadogan. Everyone who visited the Royal Academy during the exhibition of Old Masters some years ago will remember a charming picture by Reynolds, in which Charles James Fox, then about thirteen, is represented walking in the garden of Holland House with his cousin Lady Susan Strangways, while his young aunt, Lady Sarah Lennox, looks pitying from between the mullions of an oriel window at the dead bird which Lady Susan holds up to her. This picture is at Holland House, and a great part of Princess Leichtenstein's book is taken up with stories of the three figures represented in it. Walpole speaks of Lady Sarah's beauty at an early age:


Lady Sarah was in white, with her hair about her ears, and on the ground, no Magdalen by Correggio was half so lovely and expressive.

Her sister was the wife of the owner of Holland House, and Walpole saw her there on this occasion in an amateur theatrical performance. Her brother-in-law described her (in a memoir in MS. preserved at Holland House) as having

the finest Complexion, most beautifull Hair, and prettyest Person that ever was seen, with a sprightly and fine Air, a pretty Mouth and remarkably fine Teeth, and excess of bloom in her Cheeks, little Eyes,

and so on; but he adds:

Her Great Beauty was a peculiarity of Countenance, that made Her at the same time different from, and prettyer than, any other Girl, I ever saw.

The father of this marvel of perfection was one of the Lords of the Bedchamber to George II., whose grandson, the young Prince of Wales, had many opportunities of seeing and admiring Lady Sarah. In some papers by Mr. Henry Napier, we are informed that his admiration

ripened into an attachment which, as I have been told, never left him, even in his most unsettled moments, until the day of his death.

When he ascended the throne as George III. she was but fifteen, and seems to have been as free from affectation, and, indeed, as sweet a character, as any we read of. She refused one day to tell a lie-even a white one-to please the King, and we find him saying of her that he liked her because she spoke her mind so frankly,


and was so utterly devoid of guile. The King, according to Mr. Napier, made a confidant of Lady Susan Strangways, asking her at a Court ball when Lady Sarah was not present, was her reply. said the King,

The next time Lady Sarah Lennox appeared at Court the young King led her aside and asked, But whether Lady Sarah was frightened at the giddy elevation thus offered her, or really did not fancy the King, or had some other attachment, or, as is more likely, already showed signs of the good sense and presence of mind which she transmitted in so large a measure to her sons, her only answer was,

We next hear of her as romping with an old playmate, Lord Newbottle, and apparently forgetful of her Royal admirer. Then she goes into Somersetshire, gets thrown from her horse, and breaks her leg. On this event Lord Newbottle seems to have jested, while the King was full of tenderness, making anxious inquiries, and even, it seems, proposing to go to see her-greatly, no doubt, to the horror of the Court officials. When her brother-in-law, Mr. Fox,


and her uncle, Mr. Conolly, are at the Palace, George is most particular in his inquiries, and shudders at the description of her sufferings. This was in , and in a few months we find her again at Holland House, and the King's attentions more marked than ever, though it seems as if, after the rebuff he had received, he took care not formally to renew his offer. Meanwhile, the courtiers were alarmed, and especially the members of the Royal family. Something must be done at once. Lord Bute, and with him probably the Princess Dowager, opposed the idea with their utmost influence. Colonel Graeme was deputed to visit various little Protestant courts, and to report upon their eligible Princesses. The King left it to the Privy Council whether he should marry to please himself, or to satisfy the claims of Royal rank. The Council decided against him, and he submitted. Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg was chosen, her name was announced to the Council on the 1st July, and on the 16th the romance of his youth came to an end. The King and Lady Sarah met; the King was confused; the lady was dignified, nay even, we read, cross, and in secret she confesses that she had a of two hours' duration. But the sickness and death of a pet squirrel immediately took up all her attention; she wept longer for it than for the loss of a crown, and we find her shortly afterwards first bridesmaid at the Royal marriage, when the King kept his eyes fixed on her during the whole ceremony,


and Lord Westmoreland, who was near-sighted, mistook her for the new Queen; and then we only know of her further relations with Royalty that the King never forgot his friendship for her, and that the Queen behaved to her throughout life with undeviating kindness. In she married Sir Charles Bunbury, and after his death Colonel George Napier, a younger son of the Merchistoun House, and by him became the mother of Sir Charles, Sir George, and Sir William Napier, brothers whose achievements reflect more lustre upon her than even the King's admiration could have done. Once more we hear of her in a touching anecdote which connects her name and his. In Dean Andrews preached a sermon in aid of an institution for the relief of the blind. The preacher spoke of the King's blindness, and the interest he had taken in this infirmary from his sad experience. It was in St. James's Church, and a person who was present relates that on one of the seats sat an elderly lady, who appeared to feel deeply these allusions in the sermon. She wept tenderly, and at the end of the service was led out of church, being herself helpless from loss of sight. It was Lady Sarah. She survived both the King and Queen, and died in , preserving her remarkable beauty until the end.

So much for Lady Sarah Lennox. Whether King George did wisely or not may be a question. But speculators on what might have been, can


hardly help contrasting the active and heroic lives of the sons of Colonel Napier, with the miserably selfish and degraded careers of more than one of the sons of George III.

I must not take leave of Holland House without a moment's glance at the wonders of the interior. Taking the Library Passage alone, a kind of museum in itself, we find there Addison's portrait, about the authenticity of which authorities are so much divided; next a picture of Benjamin Franklin, then Lope de Vega; then a copy of Titian's Galileo, and Machiavelli, Locke, and Madame de Sevigne. A sketch of Edward VI. by George Vertue, the engraver, presented by Horace Walpole, and a drawing by Reynolds of Lord Ossory, are among the minor portraits. Then a photograph of the members of the Congress of Paris in , with the signatures of the assembled Plenipotentiaries below; near it a miniature of Catherine of Russia, with an autograph letter annexed. On either side of the Empress are the likenesses of Napoleon and Robespierre; and near the photograph of the Congress a miniature of the Prince Regent, a little bust of Earl Grey, and a portrait of George Tierney. Fox has written on the back of Robespierre's likeness,

un scelerat, un lache, et un fou


In other parts of the room are pen-and-ink sketches of Gibbon, Voltaire and his friends, a letter from Voltaire, the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle at dinner, a view of Beethoven's Cabinet by moonlight, a


crowquill portrait of the Young Pretender, Joseph Addison's last signature, of which a fac-simile is given, as well as of the Empress Catherine's letter, and above this autograph a frame containing a piece of wood from the door of the room at Ferrara in which Ariosto died in . The passage also contains portraits of Milton, Burke, Reynolds, Benedict XIV., and George Selwyn. The author of the book mentioned above tells this anecdote of the window of the Library Passage :-

In the southern window is a pane of glass, removed from the window of what, we believe, used to be Rogers' dressing-room in the east turret. Upon this frame of glass are cut some lines by Hookham Frere. They date from October,


, and run as follows :

May neither fire destroy nor waste impair Nor time consume thee till the twentieth Heir, May Taste respect thee and may Fashion spare.

To which we add a devout amen! and to which Rogers is reported to have said,

I wonder where he got the diamond.


[1] "Holland House," by Princess Marie Leichtenstein. Macmillan & Co. 1874.