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Famous American Belles of the Nineteenth Century By Virginia Tatnall Peacock Characters: 47086

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

Coming to close quarters with it, I am not sure that, after all, Chelsea has not more to offer the literary pilgrim than even Hampstead has. Addison, Locke, Smollett, Horace Walpole, are among the illustrious names whose local habitations were once there but are no longer to be seen. Charles and Henry Kingsley spent their boyhood at their father's rectory in Sidney Street; Daniel Maclise lived for ten years at 4 Cheyne Walk, where George Eliot died; and "Queen's House," No. 16 Cheyne Walk, is the house that, in 1862, Rossetti, Swinburne, William Michael Rossetti, and Meredith took as joint-tenants. Meredith soon paid a quarter's rent in lieu of notice and withdrew from the arrangement, but Swinburne and Rossetti lived on there together for some years, and did much of their greatest work there. Swinburne was next to go, and he presently set up house with Mr. Watts-Dunton at "The Pines," near the foot of Putney Hill, where he lived till his death in 1909. In the early seventies Mr. W. M. Rossetti married and removed elsewhere, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti stayed on in the Chelsea house alone.

Later, in the gloomy days before he went away to Birchington to die, Rossetti suffered terribly from insomnia, was ill and depressed, and a prey to morbid imaginings, but in the earlier years of his tenancy of 16 Cheyne Walk he was absorbed in his art, his house was lively with many visitors, and in his lazy, sociable fashion he seems to have been almost as happy as a man of his sensitive temperament could be. "Here," writes Mr. Joseph Knight, "were held those meetings, prolonged often until the early hours of the morning, which to those privileged to be present were veritable nights and feasts of gods. Here in the dimly-lighted studio, around the blazing fire, used to assemble the men of distinction or promise in literature and art whom the magnetism of Rossetti's individuality collected around him. Here Rossetti himself used, though rarely, to read aloud, with his voice of indescribable power and clearness, and with a bell-like utterance that still dwells in the mind, passages from the poems he admired; and here, more frequently, some young poet, encouraged by his sympathy, which to all earnest effort in art was overflowing and inexhaustible, would recite his latest sonnet." He crowded his rooms with quaintly-carved oak furniture, and beautiful ornaments; he had a wonderful collection of blue china that he sometimes put on the table and recklessly used at his dinner-parties. In his garden he had "a motley collection of animals, peacocks, armadilloes, the wombat, woodchuck, or Canadian marmot, and other outlandish creatures, including the famous zebu." This zebu was kept fastened to a tree, and Rossetti loved to exhibit it and point out its beauties with his maulstick. Mr. Knight goes on to repeat the story that was told concerning this animal by Whistler, who was at that time living at what is now 101 Cheyne Walk, and was then 7 Lindsey Row. According to Whistler, one day when he and Rossetti were alone in the garden, "and Rossetti was contemplating once more the admired possession, and pointing out with the objectionable stick the points of special beauty, resentment blazed into indignation. By a super-bovine exertion the zebu tore up the roots of the tree to which it was attached, and chased its tormentor round the garden, which was extensive enough to admit of an exciting chase round the trees." The zebu was fortunately hampered by the uprooted tree, and Rossetti made good his escape, but he would harbour the animal no longer, and as nobody would buy it he gave it away.


You get an illuminating glimpse of Rossetti's home life in these days from that useful literary chronicle, Allingham's Diary (Monday, June 27, 1864): "Got down to Chelsea by half-past eight to D. G. R.'s. Breakfasted in a small, lofty room on first floor with window looking on the garden. Fanny in white. Then we went into the garden, and lay on the grass, eating strawberries and looking at the peacock. F. went to look at the 'chicking,' her plural of chicken. Then Swinburne came in and soon began to recite-a parody on Browning was one thing; and after him Whistler, who talked about his own pictures-Royal Academy-the Chinese painter girl, Millais, &c."

Rossetti's wife had died shortly before he went to Cheyne Walk, and it was during his residence here that her grave in Highgate Cemetery was opened, that the manuscript volume of poems he had buried with her might be recovered, and most of its contents included in his first published book of original work.

One time and another Whistler occupied four different houses in Cheyne Walk, and No. 101 was the first of these. He had been living in lodgings, or with his brother-in-law, since he came over from America, but in 1863 he took the Cheyne Walk house, and his mother went to live there with him. It is a three-storey house, and the back room on the first floor was his studio; the river lies before it, just across the road, and he could see from his front windows old Battersea Bridge, Battersea Church on the other side of the Thames, and at night the twinkling lights of boats and barges at anchor and the flare and many-coloured glitter of Cremorne Gardens in the distance. At the end of Cheyne Walk lived the boatbuilder Greaves. "He had worked in Chelsea for years," write Mr. and Mrs. Pennell, in their Life of Whistler. "He had rowed Turner about on the river, and his two sons were to row Whistler. One of the sons, Mr. Walter Greaves, has told us that Mrs. Booth, a big, hard, coarse Scotchwoman, was always with Turner when he came for a boat. Turner would ask Greaves what kind of a day it was going to be, and if Greaves answered 'Fine,' he would get Greaves to row them across to Battersea Church, or to the fields, now Battersea Park. If Greaves was doubtful, Turner would say, 'Well, Mrs. Booth, we won't go far'; and afterwards for the sons-boys at the time-Turner in their memory was overshadowed by her." Whistler and the Greaves boys were up and down the river at all hours of the day and night and in all weathers, painting and sketching, they under his tuition, or gathering impressions and studying effects of light and shadow. He was frequently in at the Rossettis' house, and they and their friends were as frequently visiting him.

In 1867 Whistler moved to what is now 96 Cheyne Walk, and had a housewarming on the 5th of February at which the two Rossettis were present. Describing the decoration of the walls here, Mr. and Mrs. Pennell say its beauty was its simplicity. "Rossetti's house was a museum, an antiquity shop, in comparison. The simplicity seemed the more bewildering because it was the growth, not of weeks but of years. The drawing-room was not painted till the day of Whistler's first dinner-party. In the morning he sent for the brothers Greaves to help him. 'It will never be dry in time,' they feared. 'What matter?' said Whistler; 'it will be beautiful!'... and by evening the walls were flushed with flesh-colour, pale yellow and white spread over doors and woodwork, and we have heard that gowns and coats too were touched with flesh-colour and yellow before the evening was at an end. One Sunday morning Whistler, after he had taken his mother to Chelsea Church, as he always did, again sent for his pupils and painted a great ship with spreading sails in each of the two panels at the end of the hall; the ships are said to be still on the wall, covered up. His mother was not so pleased when, on her return, she saw the blue and white harmony, for she would have had him put away his brushes on Sunday as once she put away his toys."

Solitude was irksome to him, and he welcomed the motley crowd of artists and students who came in at all hours to chat with him whilst he worked. The Pennells tell a capital story of a man named Barthe, of whom Whistler had bought tapestries, and who, not being able to get his account settled, called one evening for the money. He was told that Whistler was not in; but there was a cab waiting at the door, and he could hear his debtor's voice, so he pushed past the maid and, as he afterwards related, "Upstairs I find him, before a little picture, painting, and behind him ze bruzzers Greaves holding candles. And Vistlaire he say, 'You ze very man I vant: hold a candle!' And I hold a candle. And Vistlaire he paint, and he paint, and zen he take ze picture, and he go downstairs, and he get in ze cab, and he drive off, and we hold ze candle, and I see him no more. Mon Dieu, il est terrible, ce Vistlaire!"

His studio here was a back room on the second floor, and up to that studio, on many days of 1873, Carlyle climbed to give sittings for the portrait which ranks now with the greatest of Whistler's works. The portrait of his mother had already been painted in that same small room, and hung on the wall there whilst Carlyle was coming to life on the canvas. Carlyle was not a patient sitter. Directly he sat down he urged Whistler to "fire away," and was evidently anxious to get through with his part of the business as quickly as possible. "One day," says Whistler, "he told me of others who had painted his portrait. There was Mr. Watts, a mon of note. And I went to his studio, and there was much meestification, and screens were drawn, and I was not allowed to see anything. And then, at last, the screens were put aside and there I was. And I looked. And Mr. Watts, a great mon, he said to me, 'How do you like it?' And then I turned to Mr. Watts, and I said, 'Mon, I would have ye know I am in the hobit of wurin' clean lunen!'" There is a note in Allingham's Diary, dated July 29, 1873: "Carlyle tells me he is 'sitting' to Whistler. If C. makes signs of changing his position W. screams out in an agonised tone, 'For God's sake, don't move!' C. afterwards said that all W.'s anxiety seemed to be to get the coat painted to ideal perfection; the face went for little. He had begun by asking two or three sittings, but managed to get a great many. At last C. flatly rebelled. He used to define W. as the most absurd creature on the face of the earth."


Whilst he was at 96 Cheyne Walk, Whistler brought his famous libel action against Ruskin, won it, but was awarded only a farthing damages, and had to pay his own costs. During the progress of the suit he was having the White House built for him in Tite Street, Chelsea, but the payment of his law costs so crippled him that he had to sell it before it was ready for occupation, and to sell off also the furniture and effects of his Cheyne Walk home.

None of these things seem, however, to have affected Whistler with worse than a temporary irritation. He wrote jestingly over his door: "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. E. W. Godwin, F.S.A., built this one;" turned his back upon the scenes of his recent disasters, and went to Venice. After rather more than a year of absence, he returned to London in the winter of 1880, stayed with his brother in Wimpole Street, put up at divers lodgings, had an exhibition in Bond Street, and in May 1881 took a studio at 13 Tite Street, Chelsea, and began to be the most talked-of man of the day. "He filled the papers with letters," write Mr. and Mrs. Pennell. "London echoed with his laugh. His white lock stood up defiantly above his curls; his cane lengthened; a series of collars sprang from his long overcoat; his hat had a curlier brim, a lower tilt over his eyes; he invented amazing costumes.... He was known to pay calls with the long bamboo stick in his hand and pink bows on his shoes. He allowed no break in the gossip. The carriages brought crowds, but not sitters. Few would sit to him before the trial; after it there were fewer. In the seventies it needed courage to be painted by Whistler; now it was to risk notoriety and ridicule." When Mr. Pennell first saw him at 13 Tite Street, in July 1884, "he was all in white, his waistcoat had long sleeves, and every minute it seemed as if he must begin to juggle with glasses. For, to be honest, my first impression was of a bar-keeper strayed from a Philadelphia saloon into a Chelsea studio. Never had I seen such thick, black, curling hair. But in the midst was the white lock, and keen, brilliant eyes flashed at me from under the thick, bushy eyebrows."

From Tite Street, Whistler presently removed to 454 Fulham Road; thence to The Vale, Chelsea, a pleasant quarter which was a year or two ago wiped off the face of the earth; and in 1890 he was back again in Cheyne Walk, at No. 21. "I remember a striking remark of Whistler's at a garden-party in his Chelsea house," says M. Gerard Harry, who was one of Whistler's guests at No. 21. "As he caught me observing some incompletely furnished rooms and questioning within myself whether he had occupied the house more than a fortnight or so: 'You see,' he said, with his short laugh, 'I do not care for definitely settling down anywhere. Where there is no more space for improvement, or dreaming about improvement, where mystery is in perfect shape, it is finis-the end-death. There is no hope nor outlook left.' I do not vouch for the words, but that was certainly the sense of a remark which struck me as offering a key to much of Whistler's philosophy, and to one aspect of his original art."

By 1892, in spite of himself and his fantastic and silly posings and posturings, the world had learned to take his art seriously instead of taking him so, and when he went away that year to live in Paris his greatness as a painter had become pretty generally recognised. In 1894 he came back to London with his wife, who was dying of cancer, and after her death in 1896 he lived with friends or in lodgings, and had no settled home, until in 1902 he once again took a house in Cheyne Walk, this time No. 74, a house which stands below the street level; its front windows overlook the Thames, and it had a large studio at the back. Here Mrs. and Miss Birnie Philip went to share house with him, for his health was breaking, and he was in need of companionship and attention. But there were good intervals, when he was able to work with all his old eagerness and energy. "We knew on seeing him when he was not so well," say Mr. and Mrs. Pennell, "for his costume of invalid remained original. He clung to a fur-lined overcoat worn into shabbiness. In his younger years he had objected to a dressing-gown as an unmanly concession; apparently he had not outgrown the objection, and on his bad days this shabby, worn-out overcoat was its substitute. Nor did the studio seem the most comfortable place for a man so ill as he was. It was bare, with little furniture, as his studios always were, and he had not used it enough to give it the air of a workshop. The whole house showed that illness was reigning there." Trays and odds and ends of the sickroom lay about the hall; papers, books, and miscellaneous litter made the drawing-room and dining-room look disorderly. "When we saw Whistler in his big, shabby overcoat shuffling about the huge studio, he struck us as so old, so feeble and fragile, that we could imagine no sadder or more tragic figure. It was the more tragic because he had always been such a dandy, a word he would have been the first to use in reference to himself.... No one would have suspected the dandy in this forlorn little old man, wrapped in a worn overcoat, hardly able to walk."

He lingered thus for about a year; then the end came suddenly. On the 14th July 1903, Mrs. Pennell found him dressed and in his studio. "He seemed better, though his face was sunken, and in his eyes was that terrible vagueness. Now he talked, and a touch of gallantry was in his greeting, 'I wish I felt as well as you look.' He asked about Henley, the news of whose death had come a day or two before.... There was a return of vigour in his voice when Miss Birnie Philip brought him a cup of chicken broth, and he cried, 'Take the damned thing away,' and his old charm was in the apology that followed, but, he said, if he ate every half-hour or so, as the doctor wanted, how could he be expected to have an appetite for dinner? He dozed a little, but woke up quickly with a show of interest in everything." But on the evening of the 17th, he suddenly collapsed, and was dead before the doctor could be fetched to him.


Turner's last days in this same Cheyne Walk were almost as sad, almost as piteous as Whistler's, but there is a haze of mystery about them, as there is about some of his paintings, and he had no butterfly past of dandyism to contrast painfully with the squalor of his ending. Born over the barber's shop kept by his father in Maiden Lane, Strand, he mounted to the seats of the immortals without acquiring by the way any taste for personal adornment, or for the elegancies or little prettinesses so beloved by little artists in his home surroundings. His soul was like a star, and could not make its heaven among the dainty chairs and tables and nice wall and mantelpiece ornaments of the drawing-room. On Stothard's advice (Stothard being one of the customers at the shaving shop) Turner's father made him an artist; he studied under Sir Joshua Reynolds, and later, Blake was one of his pupils. Growing in reputation, he lived by turns in Harley Street, at Hammersmith, at Twickenham, and is described in middle age as bluff and rough-mannered, and looking "the very moral of a master carpenter, with lobster-red face, twinkling staring grey eyes, white tie, blue coat with brass buttons, crab-shell turned-up boots, large fluffy hat, and enormous umbrella." From about 1815 onwards, he had a house that is no longer standing at 47 Queen Anne Street, Harley Street, and here, in 1843, when Turner was sixty-eight, a Mr. Hammersley called on him and has described (I quote from Mr. Lewis Hind's Turner's Golden Visions) how he "heard the shambling, slippered footstep coming down the stairs, the cold, cheerless room, the gallery, even less tidy and more forlorn, all confusion, mouldiness, and wretched litter; most of the pictures covered with uncleanly sheets, and the man! his loose dress, his ragged hair, his indifferent quiet-all, indeed, that went to make his physique and some of his mind; but above all I saw, felt (and feel still) his penetrating grey eye."

Somewhere between 1847 and 1848 Turner strangely disappeared from his customary haunts; his Queen Anne Street house was closed, the door kept locked, and his old housekeeper, Hannah Danby, could only assure anybody who came that he was not there, and that she simply did not know where he had gone. For the next four years or so, until he was dying, no one succeeded in discovering his hiding-place. Now and then, in the meantime, he would appear in a friend's studio, or would be met with at one of the Galleries, but he offered no explanation of his curious behaviour, and allowed no one to obtain any clue to his whereabouts. He went in 1850 to a dinner given by David Roberts, and was in good spirits, and bubbling over with laborious jokes. "Turner afterwards, in Roberts's absence, took the chair, and, at Stanfield's request, proposed Roberts's health, which he did, speaking hurriedly, but soon ran short of words and breath, and dropped down on his chair with a hearty laugh, starting up again and finishing with a 'Hip, hip, hurrah!'... Turner was the last who left, and Roberts accompanied him along the street to hail a cab. When the cab drove up, he assisted Turner to his seat, shut the door, and asked where he should tell cabby to take him; but Turner was not to be caught, and, with a knowing wink, replied, 'Tell him to drive to Oxford Street, and then I'll direct him where to go.'"

The fact is he was living at Cremorne Cottage, 119 Cheyne Walk. He was living there anonymously; a Mrs. Booth, whom he had known many years before when he stayed at her Margate boarding-house, was keeping house for him, and he was known in the neighbourhood as Admiral Booth, a rumour having got about that he was a retired naval officer fallen on evil days. This was the time of which the father of the Greaves boys had spoken to Whistler-the days when Mrs. Booth used to come with Turner to the waterside and he would row them over to Battersea. Though all his greatest work was finished, Turner painted several pictures here; he frequently rose at daybreak, and, wrapped in a blanket or a dressing-gown, stood out on the roof, leaning over the railing to watch the sunrise and the play of light on the river opposite. He used the room on the second floor as his studio, and in that room, on the 19th December 1851, he died. Some months before his death, he was seen at the Royal Academy's private view; then, tardily responding to a letter of friendly reproach that David Roberts had addressed to him at Queen Anne Street, he came to Roberts's studio in Fitzroy Square. He was "broken and ailing," and had been touched by Roberts's appeal, but as for disclosing his residence-"You must not ask me," he said; "but whenever I come to town I will always come to see you." When Roberts tried to cheer him, he laid his hand on his heart and murmured, "No, no! There is something here that is all wrong."

His illness increasing on him, he wrote to Margate for Dr. Price, an old acquaintance of his and Mrs. Booth's, and Price, coming up, examined him and told him there was no hope of his recovery. "Go downstairs," he urged the doctor, "take a glass of sherry, and then look at me again." But a second examination only confirmed Dr. Price in his opinion.

It must have been at this juncture that Turner's hiding-place was discovered. His Queen Anne Street housekeeper, Hannah Danby, found a letter left in the pocket of one of his old coats, and this gave the Chelsea address. She went with another woman and made inquiries round about Cheyne Walk till it was clear enough to her that the Mr. Booth to whom that letter was directed was none other than Turner, and acting on her information Mr. Harpur, Turner's executor, journeyed at once to Chelsea, and arrived at 119 Cheyne Walk to find Turner sinking fast. Towards sunset, on that wintry day of his dying, he asked Mrs. Booth to wheel him to the window, and so gazing out on the wonder of the darkening sky he passed quietly away with his head on her shoulder.

A certain John Pye, a Chelsea engraver, afterwards interviewed the owner of No. 119, and learned from him that Turner and Mrs. Booth had, some four or five years before, called and taken the house of him, paying their rent in advance because they objected to giving any names or references. Pye also saw Mrs. Booth, and says she was a woman of fifty, illiterate, but "good-looking and kindly-mannered." Turner had used to call her "old 'un," she said, and she called him "dear"; and she explained that she had first got acquainted with him when, more than twenty years ago, "he became her lodger near the Custom House at Margate." So small was the shabby little house in Cheyne Walk that the undertakers were unable to carry the coffin up the narrow staircase, and had to carry the body down to it. Nowadays, the house has been enlarged; it and the house next door have been thrown into one, otherwise it has undergone little change since Turner knew it.

Whilst Turner was thus passing out of life in Cheyne Walk, Carlyle was dwelling near by at No. 24

(then No. 5) Cheyne Row, and had been resident there for seventeen years. On first coming to London in 1830, he and his wife lodged at 33 Ampton Street, Gray's Inn Road. They spent, he says, "an interesting, cheery, and, in spite of poor arrangements, really pleasant winter" there; they had a "clean and decent pair of rooms," and their landlord's family consisted of "quiet, decent people." He wrote his essay on Dr. Johnson whilst he was here, and was making a fruitless search for a publisher who would accept Sartor Resartus, which he had recently completed. Jeffrey called there several times to pass an afternoon with him, and John Stuart Mill was one other of the many visitors who found their way to the drab, unlovely, rather shabby street to chat with the dour, middle-aged Scotch philosopher, who was only just beginning to be heard of.

He fixed on the Cheyne Row house in 1834, and, except for occasional holidays, never left it until his death forty-seven years afterwards. As soon as he was settled here Carlyle wrote to Sir William Hamilton, giving him his new address: "Our upholsterers, with all their rubbish and clippings, are at length swept handsomely out of doors. I have got my little book-press set up, my table fixed firm in its place, and sit here awaiting what Time and I, in our questionable wrestle, shall make out between us." In another letter of about the same date he writes of it: "The street is flag-paved, sunk-storied, iron-railed, all old-fashioned and tightly done up, looks out on a rank of sturdy old pollarded (that is, beheaded) lime trees standing there like giants in tawtie wigs (for the new boughs are still young); beyond this a high brick wall; backwards a garden, the size of our back one at Comely Bank, with trees, &c., in bad culture; beyond this green hayfields and tree avenues, once a bishop's pleasure grounds, an unpicturesque but rather cheerful outlook. The house itself is eminent, antique, wainscoted to the very ceiling, and has been all new painted and repaired; broadish stair, with massive balustrade (in the old style), corniced and as thick as one's thigh; floors thick as rock, wood of them here and there worm-eaten, yet capable of cleanliness, and still with thrice the strength of a modern floor. Chelsea is a singular heterogeneous kind of spot, very dirty and confused in some places, quite beautiful in others, abounding in antiquities and the traces of great men-Sir Thomas More, Steele, Smollett, &c. Our Row, which for the last three doors or so is a street and none of the noblest, runs out upon a Parade (perhaps they call it) running along the shore of the river, a broad highway with huge shady trees, boats lying moored, and a smell of shipping and tar."

A note in Allingham's Diary (1860) offers you a very clear little picture of Carlyle's garden here, as he saw it: "In Carlyle's garden, some twenty yards by six; ivy at the end. Three or four lilac bushes; an ash stands on your left; a little copper beech on your right gives just an umbrella to sit under when the sun is hot; a vine or two on one wall, neighboured by a jasmine-one pear tree."


In this Cheyne Row house Carlyle wrote all his books, except Sartor and some of the miscellaneous essays; here he entertained, not always very willingly or very graciously, most of the great men of his day; quarrelled with his neighbours furiously over the crowing of their cocks; was pestered by uninvited, admiring callers from all over the world; and had his room on the top floor furnished with double-windows that were supposed to render it sound-proof, but did not. Charles Boner, visiting 24 Cheyne Row in 1862, disturbed Carlyle as he sat in his dressing-gown and slippers correcting the proofs of his Frederick the Great, whilst Mrs. Carlyle remained in attendance, seated on a sofa by the fire.

In 1866 Mrs. Carlyle died suddenly of heart failure, and left him burdened with remorse that he had not been kinder to her and made her life happier; and after two years of lonely living without her, he writes: "I am very idle here, very solitary, which I find to be oftenest less miserable to me than the common society that offers. Except Froude almost alone, whom I see once a week, there is hardly anybody whose talk, always polite, clear, sharp, and sincere, does me any considerable good.... I am too weak, too languid, too sad of heart, too unfit for any work, in fact, to care sufficiently for any object left me in the world to think of grappling round it and coercing it by work. A most sorry dog-kennel it oftenest all seems to me, and wise words, if one ever had them, to be only thrown away on it. Basta-basta, I for most part say of it, and look with longings towards the still country where at last we and our loved ones shall be together again."

You will get no better or more intimate glimpses into Carlyle's home life than Allingham gives in his Diary. Sometimes they are merely casual and scrappy notes, at others fairly full records of his walks and talks with him, such as this: "1873, April 28.-At Carlyle's house about three. He spent about fifteen minutes in trying to clear the stem of a long clay pipe with a brass wire, and in the end did not succeed. The pipe was new, but somehow obstructed. At last he sent for another one and smoked, and we got out at last. (I never saw him smoke in public.) He said Emerson had called on him on Sunday, and he meant to visit E. to-day at his lodging in Down Street. We walked to Hyde Park by Queen's Gate, and westward along the broad walk, next to the ride, with the Serpentine a field distant on the left hand. This was a favourite route of his. I was well content to have the expectation of seeing Emerson again, and, moreover, Emerson and Carlyle together. We spoke of Masson's Life of Milton, a volume of which was on C.'s table. He said Masson's praise of Milton was exaggerated. 'Milton had a gift in poetry-of a particular kind. Paradise Lost is absurd; I never could take to it all-though now and again clouds of splendour rolled in upon the scene.'... At Hyde Park Corner, C. stopped and looked at the clock. 'You are going to Down Street, sir?' 'No, it's too late.' 'The place is close at hand.' 'No, no, it's half-past five.' So he headed for Knightsbridge, and soon after I helped him into a Chelsea omnibus, banning internally the clay pipe (value a halfpenny farthing) through which this chance (perhaps the last, for Emerson is going away soon) was lost."


There are numerous entries in the Diary of visits and conversations of this sort. On October 18, 1879, Allingham called at Cheyne Row with his little son, and they met Carlyle coming out of the door to his carriage. On December 4, of the same year: "Helen and I to Cheyne Row. Carlyle's eighty-fourth birthday. Mrs. Lecky there. Browning and Ruskin are gone. C. on his sofa by the window, warm and quiet, wearing a new purple and gold cap. Gifts of flowers on the table...." Some of the swift little word-sketches of Carlyle at this date, when he was very old, very feeble, and apt to be oppressed with gloom, are piteous and pathetic enough. On his eighty-fifth birthday (December 4, 1880) Allingham found him easier and more himself; but on Friday, December 24, you read: "To Carlyle's at two. He was lying on the sofa in the drawing-room. When I spoke to him he held out his hand and shook hands with me, but said nothing. I was not sure that he knew me. A stout Scotch servant girl and I lifted him to his feet to go to the carriage. In the hall his heavy sealskin coat was put on with difficulty, and he was got into the carriage. Alick and I with him. We drove twice round Hyde Park. The old man dozed much."

Earlier that year, the two sons of Alexander Munro called at Cheyne Row, and in a letter home the elder of them gave a wonderfully poignant and living account of their visit. Munro, who was dead, had been one of Carlyle's old friends, and the two boys were now at school at the Charterhouse. They were conducted upstairs, says the letter, to a well-lighted, cheerful apartment, and here "the maid went forward and said something to Carlyle, and left the room. He was sitting before a fire in an arm-chair, propped up with pillows, with his feet on a stool, and looked much older than I had expected. The lower part of his face was covered with a rather shaggy beard, almost quite white. His eyes were bright blue, but looked filmy from age. He had on a sort of coloured nightcap, and a long gown reaching to his ankles, and slippers on his feet. A rest attached to the arm of his chair supported a book before him. I could not quite see the name, but I think it was Channing's works. Leaning against the fireplace was a long clay pipe, and there was a slight smell of tobacco in the room. We advanced and shook hands, and he invited us to sit down, and began, I think, by asking where we were living. He talked of our father affectionately, speaking in a low tone as if to himself, and stopping now and then for a moment and sighing.... He went on, 'I am near the end of my course, and the sooner the better is my own feeling.' He said he still reads a little, but has not many books he cares to read now, and is 'continually disturbed by foolish interruptions from people who do not know the value of an old man's leisure.' His hands were very thin and wasted; he showed us how they shook and trembled unless he rested them on something, and said they were failing him from weakness." And, at length, closing the interview, "'Well, I'll just bid you good-bye.' We shook hands. He asked our names. He could not quite hear Henry's at first. 'I am a little deaf, but I can hear well enough talking,' or words to that effect. 'I wish you God's blessing; good-bye.' We shook hands once more and went away. I was not at all shy. He seemed such a venerable old man, and so worn and old-looking, that I was very much affected. Our visit was on Tuesday, May 18, 1880, at about 2 P.M."


He died in the following February; after lying motionless and seemingly unconscious for hours, he passed quietly soon after eight on the morning of February 5, 1881. His bed, says Allingham, had been brought down to the drawing-room (the front room on the first floor), and he rarely spoke in the last two or three weeks, not so much because he could not as because he did not seem to wish to say anything. Newspaper reporters were so continually ringing at the door, day and night, that bulletins had to be posted outside to prevent this. Now and then he appeared to wander in his mind, and when the Scotch maid, Mary, was attending upon him he would sometimes murmur, "Poor little woman," as if he mistook her for his long-dead Jenny; and once, says Allingham, "he supposed the female hands that tended him, lifting his head, perhaps, to be those of his good old mother-'Ah, mother, is it you?' he murmured, or some such words. I think it was on the day before the last day that Mary heard him saying to himself, 'So this is Death: well--'"

But the Cheyne Row house has many happy memories too, and I always think one of the happiest is that of how Leigh Hunt called once after a long absence, and brought with him word of some unexpected good news that so delighted Mrs. Carlyle that she impulsively ran to him and kissed him, and he went away to write that charming little rondeau that bids fair to outlive all his more ambitious poetry:

"Jenny kissed me when we met,

Jumping from the chair she sat in;

Time, you thief, who love to get

Sweets into your list, put that in:

Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,

Say that health and wealth have missed me,

Say I'm growing old-but add,

Jenny kissed me."

Leigh Hunt was turned fifty then, and was Carlyle's neighbour, living at No. 10 (then No. 4) Upper Cheyne Row. I have seen it said that Leigh Hunt went there in order to be near Carlyle, but his occupancy of that house dates from 1833-the year before Carlyle established himself in Chelsea-and he remained there until 1840, seven years of poverty and worry, when it was literal truth that he was weary and sad, in indifferent health, harassed for want of money, and growing old, yet you find him never losing hope, and always ready on the smallest excuse to rejoice and make light of his troubles. I am afraid Dickens's caricature of Hunt as Harold Skimpole, and Byron's contemptuous references to his vanity and vulgarity and the squalor of his easy-going home life (his children, said Byron, "are dirtier and more mischievous than Yahoos," and writing of their arrival in Italy as Shelley's guests he observes, "Poor Hunt, with his six little blackguards, are coming slowly up; as usual he turned back once-was there ever such a kraal out of the Hottentot country?")-I am rather afraid these things have tended to wrong Hunt in our imagination of him, for you learn on other evidence that there is just enough truth in those representations of him to make them seem quite true, and they linger in your mind, and affect your regard and admiration of the man in spite of yourself. But Dickens, with his keen sense of the absurd, had a habit of exaggeration; there was no ill-nature in his laughter-he merely seized on certain of Hunt's weaknesses and gave them to a character who has none of Hunt's finer qualities, and it is ridiculous in us and unfair to both men to take that caricature as a portrait. As for Byron-he could not justly appraise Hunt, for he had no means of understanding him. His own way of life was made too easy for him from the first; he was not born to Hunt's difficulties and disadvantages; his experiences of the world, and therefore his sympathies, were too limited. There is no merit in living elegantly and playing the gentleman when you simply inherit, as the fruits of an ancestor's abilities, all the conveniences and the money that enable you to do so. On the whole, if you compare their lives, you will realise that Leigh Hunt was by far the greater man of the two, even if Byron was the greater poet, and I am more than a little inclined to agree with Charles Lamb that even as a poet Byron was "great in so little a way. To be a poet is to be the man, not a petty portion of occasional low passion worked up in a permanent form of humanity. Shakespeare has thrust such rubbishy feelings into a corner-the dark, dusty heart of Don John, in the Much Ado about Nothing."

Shelley never speaks of Leigh Hunt but in the kindliest terms. He was "gentle, honourable, innocent, and brave," writes Shelley; "one of more exalted toleration for all who do and think evil, and yet himself more free from evil; one of simpler and, in the highest sense of the word, purer life and manners, I never knew." He is, he says in the Letter to Maria Gisborne:

"One of those happy souls

Which are the salt of the earth, and without whom

This earth would smell like what it is-a tomb."

Hunt tells in his Autobiography how he came to Chelsea, and gives a glowing description of his house there. He left St. John's Wood, and then his home in the New Road (now Marylebone Road), because he found the clay soil of the one and the lack of quiet around the other affected his health, or "perhaps it was only the melancholy state of our fortune" that was answerable for that result; anyhow, from the noise and dust of the New Road he removed to Upper Cheyne Row-"to a corner in Chelsea," as he says, "where the air of the neighbouring river was so refreshing and the quiet of the 'no-thoroughfare' so full of repose, that although our fortunes were at their worst, and my health almost at a piece with them, I felt for some weeks as if I could sit still for ever, embalmed in silence. I got to like the very cries in the street, for making me the more aware of it by the contrast. I fancied they were unlike the cries in other quarters of the suburbs, and that they retained something of the old quaintness and melodiousness which procured them the reputation of having been composed by Purcell and others.... There was an old seller of fish, in particular, whose cry of 'Shrimps as large as prawns' was such a regular, long-drawn, and truly pleasing melody that, in spite of his hoarse and, I am afraid, drunken voice, I used to wish for it of an evening, and hail it when it came....


"I know not whether the corner I speak of remains as quiet as it was. I am afraid not; for steamboats have carried vicissitude into Chelsea, and Belgravia threatens it with her mighty advent. But to complete my sense of repose and distance, the house was of that old-fashioned sort which I have always loved best, familiar to the eyes of my parents, and associated with childhood. It had seats in the windows, a small third room on the first floor, of which I made a sanctum, into which no perturbation was to enter, except to calm itself with religious and cheerful thoughts; and there were a few limes in front which, in their due season, diffused a fragrance. In this house we remained seven years; in the course of which, besides contributing some articles to the Edinburgh and Westminster Reviews, and producing a good deal of the book since called The Town, I set up (in 1834) the London Journal, endeavoured to continue the Monthly Repository, and wrote the poem entitled Captain Sword and Captain Pen, the Legend of Florence, and three other plays. Here also I became acquainted with Thomas Carlyle, one of the kindest and best, as well as most eloquent of men.... I believe that what Mr. Carlyle loves better than his fault-finding, with all its eloquence, is the face of any human creature that looks suffering, and loving, and sincere; and I believe further that if the fellow-creature were suffering only, and neither loving nor sincere, but had come to a pass of agony in this life which put him at the mercies of some good man for some last help and consolation towards his grave, even at the risk of loss to repute and a sure amount of pain and vexation, that man, if the groan reached him in its forlornness, would be Thomas Carlyle."

He wrote that from his personal experience of Carlyle, for whilst they were neighbours at Chelsea they frequently visited each other; and Carlyle, on his part, saw the worst as well as the best of him, from the inside, and was too large-minded and too big a man to judge him by his faults and follies only. He saw how Hunt worked, all the while haunted by pecuniary distresses; unpaid tradesmen knocking at his door and worrying for their debts; once an execution in the house; now and then faced with the humiliation of having to ask for loans of a few shillings to buy the family dinner; his children almost in rags, and himself, as he said bitterly, slighted and neglected by editors and the public, and "carelessly, over-familiarly, or even superciliously treated, pitied or patronised by his inferiors." Carlyle had known poverty and neglect himself; he was fitted to judge Hunt understandingly, and he judged him justly. "Leigh Hunt was a fine kind of man," he told Allingham in 1868. "Some used to talk of him as a frivolous fellow, but when I saw him I found he had a face as serious as death." In his Diary he noted, "Hunt is always ready to go and walk with me, or sit and talk with me to all lengths if I want him. He comes in once a week (when invited, for he is very modest), takes a cup of tea, and sits discoursing in his brisk, fanciful way till supper time, and then cheerfully eats a cup of porridge (to sugar only), which he praises to the skies, and vows he will make his supper of it at home."

It was Mrs. Carlyle who was severe about the Hunts' untidy and uncleanly household, and complained of the domestic utensils they borrowed and failed to return, but Carlyle took the position in a more genial spirit, and saw the pity of it and the humour of it also. "Hunt's house," he wrote after one of his visits to No. 10 Upper Cheyne Row, "excels all you have ever read of-a poetical Tinkerdom without parallel even in literature. In his family room, where are a sickly, large wife and a whole school of well-conditioned wild children, you will find half-a-dozen old rickety chairs gathered from half-a-dozen different hucksters, and all seemingly engaged, and just pausing, in a violent hornpipe. On these and around them and over the dusty table and ragged carpet lie all kinds of litter-books, papers, egg-shells, scissors, and last night when I was there the torn heart of a quartern loaf. His own room above stairs, into which alone I strive to enter, he keeps cleaner. It has only two chairs, a bookcase, and a writing-table; yet the noble Hunt receives you in his Tinkerdom in the spirit of a king, apologises for nothing, places you in the best seat, takes a window-sill himself if there is no other, and then folding closer his loose-flowing 'muslin cloud' of a printed nightgown in which he always writes, commences the liveliest dialogue on philosophy and the prospects of man (who is to be beyond measure 'happy' yet); which again he will courteously terminate the moment you are bound to go. A most interesting, pitiable, lovable man, to be used kindly, but with discretion."

Hunt departed from Chelsea, with all his anxieties, in 1840, and took up residence at 32 Edwardes Square, Kensington, where he got through with a great deal of work, and one way and another was secured at last above his financial embarrassments. Dickens, Jerrold, Forster and some other friends raised £900 for him by a benefit performance of Every Man in his Humour; the Government granted him two sums of £200, and then a Civil List Pension of £200 a year, to the obtaining of which Carlyle readily lent all his influence. Moreover, the Shelley family settled an annuity of £120 upon him. But, with all these material advantages, came the death of his wife and one of his sons. "She was as uncomplaining during the worst storms of our adversity," Hunt wrote of his wife, reminiscently, "as she was during those at sea in our Italian voyage."

He was an old and rather solitary man when he moved from Kensington in 1853 and went to 7 Cornwall Road, now known as 16 Rowan Road, Hammersmith Road, but he had an ample and sure income, and was no longer haunted by duns, if he could not indulge in much in the way of luxury. When Nathaniel Hawthorne was in England he went to see him at Hammersmith, and found the house in Rowan Road plain, small, shabby, Hunt's little study cheaply papered, sparely carpeted, and furnished meanly, and Hunt himself "a beautiful and venerable old man, buttoned to the chin in a black dress coat, tall and slender, with a countenance quietly alive all over, and the gentlest and most naturally courteous manner." At Rowan Road he wrote most of his Old Court Suburb, in the preface to a recent edition of which Mr. Austin Dobson says of the Leigh Hunt of those closing days, "He was still the old sensitive, luminous-eyed Leigh Hunt of the wide collar and floating printed nightgown, delighted with a flower or a bird or a butterfly; but Time had snowed upon his pericranium, and to his breezy robe de chambre he had added, or was about to add, a protective cape, more or less ample, of faded black silk, which gave him the air (says John Forster) of an old French Abbé." He died away from home in 1859, whilst he was on a short visit to a relative at Putney.


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