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

Hunt, Leigh





HOLLAND HOUSE, after Addison's death, remained in possession of the Warwick family and of their heir, Lord Kensington,


who came of the family of Edwardes, till it was purchased of his lordship by Henry Fox, who subsequently became a lord himself, and took his title from the mansion. This was about a hundred years ago, in the beginning of the reign of George the Third.

Henry Fox, the first Lord Holland of the new race, was the younger son of that marvellous old gentleman, Sir Stephen Fox, who, after having had a numerous offspring by one wife, married another at the age of seventy-six, and had three more children, two of whom founded the noble families of Holland and Ilchester. It was reported that he had been a singing-boy in a cathedral. Walpole says he was a footman; and the late Lord Holland, who was a man of too noble a nature to affect ignorance of such traditions, candidly owns that he was a man of "very humble origin." Noble families must begin


with somebody; and with whom could the new one have better begun than with this stout and large-hearted gentleman, who after doing real service to the courts in which he rose, and founding institutions for the benefit of his native place, closed a life full of health, activity, and success, in the eighty-ninth year of his age ?

Henry Fox was as full of vitality as his father, and he carried the stock higher; but, though very knowing, he was not so wise, and did not end so happily. With him began the first parliamentary emulation be- tween a Fox and a Pitt, which so curiously descended to their sons. Many persons now living remember the second rivalry. The first was so like it, that Walpole, in one of his happy comprehensive dashes, describes the House of Commons, for a certain period, as consisting of " a dialogue between Pitt and


Fox." The oratory, in the high sense of the word, was on the Pitt side; but Fox, though an unequal speaker, partly fluent and partly hesitating, had acuteness, argument, and a natural manner; and it was a rare honour, even for the short time in which he did so, to divide the honours of emulation with the man who has been since styled the "great Earl of Chatham." Fox had begun life as a partizan of Sir Robert Walpole; and in the course of his career, held lucrative offices under Government-that of Pay- master of the Forces, for one-in which he enriched himself to a degree which incurred a great deal of suspicion. He was latterly denounced, in a city address, as the "de- faulter of unaccounted millions." Public accounts, in those times, were strangely neg- lected; and the family have said, that his were in no worse condition than those of


others; but they do not deny that he was a jobber. Fox, however, for a long time, did not care. The joyousness of his tempera- ment, together with some very lax notions of morality, enabled him to be at ease with himself, as long as his blood spun so well. He jobbed and prospered; ran away with a duke's daughter; contrived to reconcile himself with the family (that of Richmond); got his wife made a baroness; was made a Lord himself, Baron Holland of Foxley; was a husband, notwithstanding his jobbing, loving and beloved; was an indulgent father; a gay and social friend-in short, had as happy a life of it as health and spirits could make; till, unfortunately, health and spirits failed; and then there seems to have been a remnant of his father's better portion within him, which did not allow him to be so well satis- fied with himself in his decline. Out-tricked


and got rid of by the flighty Lord Shelburne, and forsaken by the selfish friends with whom he had jobbed and made merry and laughed at principle, he not only experienced the last mortifications of a man of the world, but had retained at least enough belief in the social virtues to be made seriously unhappy by the conduct of his worthless companions, particularly by that of Rigby, the most worth- less of them all. His lordship had a talent for vers de societe' and tried to console him- self with a Lament, in which the name of Rigby, now unknown out of the pale of party recollections, comes in, like an involun- tary burlesque:-

"White-liver'd Grenville and self-loving Gower Shall never cause one peevish moment more; Not that their spite required I should repair To southern climates and a warmer air,

Slight was the pain they gave, and short its date; I found I could not both despise and hate; But, Rigby, what did I for thee endure ?"

The noble lord tried to divert his melan- choly with building a villa near Margate, in a style equally expensive and fantastic, from which he made visits across the channel to France and Italy. He also endeavoured to get some comfort out of a few other worth- less persons, such as George Selwyn and Lord March, afterwards "Old Q.," (Duke of Queensberry) gentlemen who, not being in want of places, had abided by him. But all would not do. He returned home and died at Holland House, twenty years younger than his father; and he was followed in less than a month by his wife. Gray's bitter lines on the house at Kingsgate are so well known, and the owner of it, upon the whole, was so goodnatured a man, probably sinning


no worse than the companions whose de- sertion he so lamented, that we are not sorry to omit them. It is said, that a day or two before his death, George Selwyn, who had a passion for seeing dead bodies, sent to ask how he was, and whether a visit would be welcome.

" Oh, by all means," said Lord Holland. " If I am alive, I shall be delighted to see George; and I know, that if I am dead, he will be delighted to see me."

A curious story is told of the elopement of the Duke of Richmond's daughter, Lady Caroline Lenox, who thus speedily followed her husband to the grave. The Duke was a grandson of King Charles the Second; and both he and the Duchess had declined to favour the suit of Mr. Fox, the son of the equivocal Sir Stephen. They reckoned on her marrying another man; and an evening was appointed on which the gentleman was


to be formally introduced as her suitor. Lady Caroline, whose affections the dashing statesman had secretly engaged, was at her wit's end to know how to baffle this interview. She had evaded the choice of the family as long as possible, but this appoint- ment looked like a crisis. The gentleman is to come in the evening; the lady is to pre- pare for his reception by a more than ordinary attention to her toilet. This gives her the cue to what is to be done. The more than ordinary attention is paid; but it is in a way that renders the interview impossible. She has cut off her eyebrows. How can she be seen by anybody in such a trim? The in- dignation of the Duke and Duchess is great; but the thing is manifestly impossible. She is accordingly left to herself for the night; she has perfected her plan, in expectation of that result; and the consequence is, that


when next her parents inquire for her, she has gone. Nobody can find her. She is off for Mr. Fox.

At the corner of Holland House Lane- the one that is now shut up-is a public house, the Holland Arms, the sign of which is the family scutcheon. The supporters of the shield are a couple of foxes, and in this emblazonment of it-for the arms in the peerage have no such device-one of the foxes holds a rose in his mouth. The rose is the cognizance of the Richmond family. Was this an allusion to the stolen bud? The old Duchess of Marlborough, whose nephew had been persuaded by Henry, or, as he was familiarly termed, Harry Fox, to join him in politics, called him "the fox that had stolen her goose." Did this put it into Fox's head to represent himself as the fox that had stolen the rose ?



Lady Caroline appears to have been truly attached to her husband. Her death so soon after his own, was not improbably occasioned by it; and when he procured her the title of Baroness, before he was ennobled himself, she put up their joint coat of arms in the house, where it is still be seen, with the motto Re e Marito (king and husband); as much as to say, that she derived her honours equally from both.

But the Fox family, during his lordship's prosperity, had been forced to suffer what they considered a degradation, in turn. Among the pictures in Holland House we have mentioned an interesting one by Sir Joshua Reynolds, representing, in a group, Lady Sarah Lenox, who was a very young sister of Lady Caroline; Lady Susan Fox, or Strangeways, an equally young daughter of Henry Fox's cousin, Lord Ilchester, who


had taken the name of Strangeways; and Charles Fox, afterwards the great Whig statesman, who was then a youth of eighteen, or thereabouts. Lady Susan is looking down from one of the lower windows of Holland House; Lady Sarah is lifting a dove towards her; and Charles Fox holds a copy of verses in his hand, which he is understood to be re- peating to Lady Sarah.

Lady Sarah, who was beautiful, is supposed to have been the heroine of the song " On Richmond Hill there lives a lass," and to have been nearly raised to the throne by the young King, George the Third, who is said to have frequently ridden past Holland House, on purpose to catch a sight of her. She became the wife of Sir Charles Bunbury, who forsook Mrs. Inchbald for her; but a divorce ensued, and she married a Napier. Lady Susan Fox is stated in the Peerage to


have married William O'Brien, of Stintsford, in the county of Dorset, Esquire; but upon that little word " esquire"-a very little word now-a-days, but at that time a designation of some pretension-hangs a tale of dramatic interest.

One of the amusements in Holland House was the performance of plays. It had for- merly been a court custom, as it now is again; but Queen Elizabeth, like Queen Victoria, had the plays performed by pro- fessional actors. Among those actors, in the days of the Tudors and Stuarts, were children; and hence children in private life subsequently figured sometimes as amateurs. We have mentioned a picture in Holland House, by Hogarth, representing the performance of a play of Dryden by children, one of whom was a grand-niece of Sir Isaac Newton. It may be here added, that another was of the


Pomfret family, and that two figures in the background are said to be a Duke and Duchess of Richmond.

In the January of the year seventeen hundred and sixty-one, Horace Walpole was present at a performance of this kind in Holland House, which greatly entertained him. But the account of it had better be given in his own words.

"I was excessively amused (says he) on Tuesday night. There was a play at Holland House, acted by children; not all children, for Lady Sarah Lenox and Lady Susan Strangeways played the women. It was Jane Shore. Mr. Price, Lord Barrington's nephew, was Gloster, and acted better than three parts of the comedians; Charles Fox, Hastings; a little Nichols, who spoke well, Belmour; Lord Ofaly, Lord Ashbroke, and other boys, did the rest. But the two girls


were delightful, and acted with so much nature and simplicity, that they appeared the very things they represented. Lady Sarah was more beautiful than you can conceive, and her very awkwardness gave an air of truth to the shame of the part and the an- tiquity of the time, which was kept up by her dress, taken out of Montfaucon. Lady Susan was dressed from Jane Seymour; and all the parts were clothed in ancient habits, and with the most minute propriety. When Lady Sarah was in white, with her hair about her ears, and on the ground, no Magdalen by Corregio was half so lovely and expressive. You would have been charmed, too, with seeing Mr. Fox's little boy of six years old, who is beautiful, and acted the Bishop of Ely, dressed in lawn sleeves and with a square cap. They inserted two lines for him, which he could hardly speak plainly." (This little


boy died a general in the year .)

So far, so good; and Horace Walpole is enchanted with young ladies who act plays. But ladies who act plays are apt to become enchanted with actors ; and three years after this performance of Jane Shore, a catastrophe occurs at Ilchester House, which makes Horace vituperate such enchantments as loudly as if he never had encouraged them. O'Brien, a veritable actor at the public theatres, runs away with the noble friend of Jane Shore, the charming Lady Susan; and the Foxes, and the Walpoles, and all other admirers of amateur performances, are in despair; not excepting, of course, the runner away with the Duke's daughter. Horace, forgetting what he said of Sir Stephen, or perhaps calling it desperately to mind, declares that it would have been better had the man


been a footman, because an actor is so well known, that there is no smuggling him in among gentlefolk. " II ne sera pas milord tout comme un autre." The worst of it was, that Horace had not only been loud in praise of the young lady's theatricals, but had eulogised this very O'Brien as a better repre- sentative of men of fashion than Garrick himself.

Perhaps it was his eulogy that made the lady fall in love. And O'Brien was really a distinguished actor, and probably as much of a gentleman off the stage as on it. Nay, to say nothing of the doubt which has been thrown upon the legiti- macy of Horace himself (who is suspected to have been the son of Carr, Lord Hervey), the player may even have come of a better house than a Walpole; for the Walpoles, though of an ancient, were


but of a country-gentleman stock; whereas the name of O'Brien is held to be a voucher for a man's coming of race royal.

We do not mean by these remarks to advocate intermarriages between different ranks. There is well-founded objection to them in the difference of education and manners, and the discord which is likely to ensue on all sides. But their general un- advisedness must not render us unjust to exceptions. An Earl of Derby some time afterwards, was thought to have married good breeding itself in the person of Miss Farren the actress; and though Mr. O'Brien, instead of being smuggled in among the gentlefolk whom he so well represented, was got off with his wife to America, their after-lives are recorded as having been equally happy and respectable. So Lady Susan, after all,


made a better match of it with her actor, than Lady Sarah with the baronet.

So much for the plays in Holland House, and the vicissitudes in the marriages of the Foxes.