« AnteriorContinuar »
OUT OF TOWN.
I. I have little news, my dear Bob, wherewith to entertain thee from this city, from which almost everybody has fled within the last week, and which lies in a state of torpor. I wonder what the newspapers find to talk about day after day, and how they come out every morning. But for a little distant noise of cannonading from the Danube and the Theiss, the whole world is silent, and London seems to have hauled down her flag, as her Majesty has done at Pimlico, and the queen of cities has gone out of town.
You, in pursuit of Miss Kicklebury, are probably by this time at Spa or Homburg. Watch her well, Bob, and see what her temper is like. See whether she flirts with the foreigners much, examine how she looks of a morning (you will have a hundred opportunities of familiarity, and can drop in and out of a friend's apartments at a German watering-place as you never can hope to do here), examine her conduct with her little sisters, if they are of the party, whether she is good and playful with them, see whether she is cheerful and obedient to old Lady Kick (I acknowledge a hard task) — in fine, try her manners and temper, and see whether she wears them all day, and only puts on her smiles with her fresh bonnet, to come out on the parade at music time. I, meanwhile, remain behind, alone in our airy and great Babylon.
As an old soldier when he gets to his ground begins straightway
se caser, as the French say, makes the most of his circumstances, and himself as comfortable as he can, an old London man, if obliged to pass the dull season in town, accommodates himself to the time, and forages here and there in the deserted city, and manages to make his own tent snug. A thousand means of comfort and amusement spring up, whereof a man has no idea of the existence, in the midst of the din and racket of the London season. I, for my part, am grown to that age, sir, when I like the quiet time the best: the gayety of the great London season is too strong and noisy for me; I like to talk to my beloved metropolis when she has done dancing at crowded balls, and squeezing at concerts, and chattering at conversaziones, and gorging at great dinners — when she is calm, contemplative, confidential, and at leisure.
Colonel Padmore of our Club being out of town, and too wise a man to send his favorite old cob to grass, I mounted him yesterday, and took a ride in Rotten Row, and in various parts of the city, where but ten days back all sorts of life, hilarity, and hospitality, were going on. What a change it is now in the Park, from that scene which the modern Pepys, and that ingenious youth who signs his immortal drawings with a D surmounted by a dickey-bird, depicted only a few weeks ago ! Where are the thousands of carriages that crawled along the Serpentine shore, and which give an observant man a happy and wholesome sense of his own insignificance for you shall be a man long upon the town, and pass five hundred equipages without knowing the owners of one of them? Where are the myriads of horsemen who trampled the Row? — the splendid dandies whose boots were shiny, whose chins were tufted, whose shirts were astounding, whose manners were frank and manly, whose brains were somewhat small? Where are the stout old capitalists and bishops on their cobs (the Bench, by the way, cuts an uncommonly good figure on horseback)? Where are the dear rideresses, above all? Where is she the gleaming of whose red neck-ribbon in the distance made your venerable uncle's heart beat, Bob? He sees her now prancing by, severe and beautiful
a young Diana, with pure bright eyes! Where is Fanny, who wore the pretty gray hat and feather, and rode the pretty
Fanny changed her name last week, without ever so much as sending me a piece of cake. The gay squadrons have disappeared: the ground no longer thrills with the thump of their countless hoofs. Watteau-like groups in shot silks no longer compose themselves under the green boughs of Kensington Gardens: the scarlet trumpeters have blown themselves away thence ; you don't behold a score of horsemen in the course of an hour's ride ; and Mrs. Catherine Highflyer, whom a fortnight since you never saw unaccompanied by some superb young Earl and roué of the fashion, had yesterday so little to do with her beautiful eyes, that she absolutely tried to kill your humble servant with them as she cantered by me in at the barriers of the Row, and looked round firing Parthian shots behind her. But Padmore's cob did not trot, nor did my blood run, any the quicker, Mr. Bob; man and beast are grown too old and steady to be put out of our pace by any Mrs. Highflyer of them all ; and though I hope, if I live to be a hundred, never to be unmoved by the sight of a pretty girl, it is not thy kind of beauty, O ogling and vain Delilah, that can set me cantering after thee.
By the way, one of the benefits I find in the dull season is at my own lodgings. When I ring the bell now, that uncommonly pretty young woman, the landlady's daughter, condescends to come in and superintend my comfort, and whisk about amongst the books and tea-things, and wait upon me in general: whereas in the full season, when young Lord Claude Lollypop is here attending to his arduous duties in Parliament, and occupying his accustomed lodgings on the second floor, the deuce a bit will Miss Flora ever deign to bring a message or a letter to old Mr. Brown on the first, but sends me in Muggins, my old servant, whose ugly face I have known any time these thirty years, or the blowsy maid-of-all-work with her sandy hair in papers.
Again, at the Club, how many privileges does a man lingering in London enjoy, from which he is precluded in the full season? Every man in every Club has three or four special aversions — men who somehow annoy him, as I have no doubt but that you and I, Bob, are hated by some particular man, and for that excellent reason for which the poet disliked Dr. Fell the appearance of old Banquo, in the same place, in the same arm-chair, reading the newspaper day after day and evening after evening; of Mr. Plodder threading among the coffee-room tables and taking note of every man's dinner; of old General Hawkshaw, who makes that constant noise in the Club, sneezing, coughing, and blowing his nose all these men, by their various defects or qualities, have driven me half mad at times, and I have thought to myself, Oh, that I could go to the Club without seeing Banquo
Oh, that Plodder would not come and inspect my mutton-chop Oh, that fate would remove Hawkshaw and his pocket-handkerchief for ever out of my sight and hearing ! Well, August arrives, and one's three men of the sea are off one's shoulders. Mr. and Mrs. Banquo are at Leamington, the paper says; Mr. Plodder is gone to Paris to inspect the dinners at the 6. Trois Frères ; ” and Hawkshaw is coughing away at Brighton, where the sad sea waves murmur before him. The Club is your own. How pleasant it is! You can get the Globe and Standard now without a struggle ; you may see all the Sunday papers ; when you dine it is not like dining in a street dinned by the tramp of waiters perpetually passing with clanking dishes of various odors, and jostled by young men who look scowlingly down upon your dinner as they pass with creaking boots. They are all gone you sit in a vast and agreeable apartment with twenty large servants at your orders
if you were a Duke with a thousand pounds a day you couldn't be better served or lodged. Those men, having nothing else to do, are anxious to prevent your desires and make you happy – the butler bustles about with your pint of wine
if you order a dish, the chef himself will probably cook it; what mortal can ask more.
I once read in a book purporting to give descriptions of London, and life and manners, an account of a family in the lower ranks of genteel life, who shut up the front windows of their house, and lived in the back rooms, from which they only issued for fresh air surreptitiously at midnight, so that their friends might suppose that they were out of town. I suppose that there is some foundation for this legend. I suppose that some people are actually afraid to be seen in London, when the persons who form their society have quitted the metropolis : and that Mr. and Mrs. Higgs being left at home at Islington, when Mr. and Mrs. Biggs, their next-door neighbors, have departed for Margate or Gravesend, feel pangs of shame at their own poverty, and envy at their friends' better fortune. I have seen many men and cities, my dear Bob, and noted their manners : and for servility I will back a free-born Englishman of the respectable classes against any man of any nation in the world. In the competition for social rank between Higgs and Biggs, think what a strange standard of superiority is set up! shilling steamer to Gravesend, and a few shrimps more or less on one part or the other, settle the claim. Perhaps in what is called high life, there are disputes as paltry, aims as mean, and distinctions as absurd: but my business is with this present folly of being ashamed to be in London. Ashamed, sir ! I like being in London at this time, and have so much to say regarding the pleasures of the place in the dead season, that I hope to write you another letter regarding it next week.
II. CAREERING during the season from one party to another, from one great dinner of twenty covers to another of eighteen guests ; from Lady Hustlebury's rout to Mrs. Packington's soirée — friendship, to a man about town, becomes impossible from February to August: it is only his acquaintances he can cultivate during those six months of turmoil.
In the last fortnight, one has had leisure to recur to more tender emotions : in other words, as nobody has asked me to dinner, I have been about seeking dinners from my old friends. And very glad are they to see you : very kindly and hospitable are they disposed to be, very pleasant are those little calm réunions in the quiet summer evenings, when the beloved friend of your youth and you sip a bottle of claret together leisurely without candles, and ascend to the drawing-room where the friend of your youth's wife sits blandly presiding over the teapot. What matters that it is the metal teapot, the silver utensils being packed off to the banker's? What matters that the hangings are down, and the lustre in a brown-hollands bag? Intimacy increases by this artless confidence — you are admitted to a family en déshabille. In an honest man's house, the wine is never sent to the banker's; he can always go to the cellar for that. And so we drink and prattle in quiet — about the past season, about our sons at college, and what not? We become intimate again, because Fate, which has long separated us, throws us once more together. I say the dull season is a kind season : gentle and amiable, friendly and full of quiet enjoyment.
Among these pleasant little meetings, for which the present season has given time and opportunity, I shall mention one, sir, which took place last Wednesday, and which during the very dinner itself I vowed I would describe, if the venerable Mr. Punch would grant me leave and space, in the columns of a journal which has for its object the promotion of mirth and good-will.
In the year eighteen hundred and something, sir, there lived at a villa, at a short distance from London, a certain gentleman and lady who had many acquaintances and friends, among whom was your humble servant. For to become acquainted with this young woman was to be her friend, so friendly was she, so kind, so gentle, so full of natural genius, and graceful feminine accomplishment. Whatever she did, she did charmingly; her life was decorated with a hundred pretty gifts, with which, as one would fancy, kind fairies had endowed her cradle ; music and pictures seemed to flow naturally out of her hand, as she laid it on the piano or the drawing-board. She sang exquisitely, and with a full heart, and as if she couldn't help it any more than a bird. I have an image of this fair creature before me now, a calm, sunshiny evening, a green lawn flaring with roses and geraniums, and a half-dozen gentlemen sauntering thereon in a state of great contentment, or gathered under the veranda, by the open French window : near by she sits singing at the piano. She is in a pink dress : she has gigot sleeves; a little child in a prodigious sash is playing about at her mother's knee. She sings song after song ; the sun goes down behind