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I was at both Lady Mansfield's parties on two following Thursdays, both extremely full and extremely hot, but extremely agreeable; and our excellent friend De has taken me two or three times to Lady Salisbury's Sunday conversazione, where whist is admitted-after midnight, I believe.
At Almack's, I am in my element—all my most absurd jumps and pirouettes, at which you and my poor aunt used to laugh, come into play here as grace and activity; and the poor dowdy girls who jump and bump themselves about the room till they shake their curls into bell-ropes, vow that, except Shandor or Flahault, or some other half-dozen, they never saw anything so perfect as my performances.
Their Opera here is occasionally good; but it might be much better and please them no more, it might be much worse and please them just as well; they care nothing for the performance-not one in a hundred comprehends a syllable of the language; and as for music, they are told by their masters, or some extremely learned friend, or by—what they rely on most of all—the newspapers, that such a man is a magnificent singer, such a woman a delightful dancer—that one composer is divine, and that another composer is odious; and accordingly they wriggle and twist themselves about in order to affect ecstacies, and turn up their eyes with delight, and their noses with contempt, under the direction of their leading journals.
The theatres are below criticism. Shakspeare, who after Molière, Racine, and a few other French writers, is perhaps the best of the playmakers, is never acted unless to introduce a concert or a coronation : the comic authors are equally neglected ; and the great theatres, as they call them, are devoted to ballets, masquerades, tumbling, and horsemanship. Nobody, however, goes-at least I know nobody that does. I went once and acted in masque, and had my pocket picked—to be sure I did not lose much ; but the idea of the thing was enough.
Fish dinners, at two places-Grinitch and Blackhole, I think they are called--are the fashion just now. I was at one, only three days since; it is an excessively comical proceeding. A party of people get into a boat-or carriages if you like and go away from their comfortable homes to an inn whose windows project over a huge bed of ill-smelling mud, and where little dirty bare-legged boys puddle and tumble for moneythe sun glaring in from the water, and the breeze wafting into the rooms the combined flavour of pitch, tar, and the kitchen.
Presently in march some eight or ten waiters with dishes covered with tin tops, all of which they deposit upon the table, and the company sit down;
the covers are removed ; then you see twenty different sorts of fish dressed twenty different ways, but, with the exception of eels, (which, being the richest of fish, they sometimes attempt to dress, in our sense of the word,) everything is fried and boiled, with melted butter, and potatoes as hard as bullets, and as white as tennis balls. Of all these dishes, men, women, and children, indiscriminately eat, and having made themselves nearly sick by their exertions, the doors fly open again, and the waiters reappear with more dishes and tin covers,
you served with hundreds of a small fry called “white bêtes”-over these the connoisseurs squeeze lemon-I am not sure whether they add sugar; and having prepared the mess, swallow such quantities of it as would astound
you; and after this they proceed to eat great pieces of roast meat, and then fowls, and ducks, and quantities of peas and beans plain boiled,
with more melted butter; and having washed all this down with port and claret, and a sort of ginger beer which they sell in England for champagne, they conclude with a dessert, wind up the day by paying twenty or thirty pounds for the entertainment, and return to town too late to fulfil any pleasant engagement they may have, and just in time to go to bed to sleep off the fumes of their feast, and escape, if they can, the head-ache which threatens them in the morning. To be sure I ought not to complain, for the dear lady who made up the party insisted upon my being her guest, and accordingly her exemplary husband paid my share of the bill, and was good enough to ride home on his own coach-box to make room for me inside his carriage, as it turned out wet.
One night last week I was at the House of Commons. I was introduced to the Speaker before he went in to take the chair, and was highly gratified by the reception which I met with. His manners are charming, and although dignified in an eminent degree, while fulfilling the duties of his important and arduous office of president, there is a kindness, and even playfulness in his conversation in private life which I found most agreeable.
We entered the House by the Members' door, and were placed in seats exactly similar to those of the Members, under the gallery and in the body of the House, although, technically speaking, out of the House, inasmuch as we were without the bar. There was a very full attendance of Members, and the smell was very oppressive. What struck me most forcibly was the strange variety of hats which they wore, for they were almost all covered ; in fact, I never saw an assembly of similar importance-if there be such a thing in Europe-so little calculated to inspire either awe or respect.
On the ministerial bench I saw Lord Althorp, who looks like a farmer; Lord John Russell, who looks like a frog ; Lord Palmerston, who looks like a man-milliner; and Sir James Graham, who looks like an English gentleman-indeed he is the beau ideal of the island aristocrat. Mr. Edward Ellice is a good bluff-looking man, and was sitting in earnest conversation with a Member whose name I think they told me was Baumgarten, although I could not find it in the list of Members when I went home. Mr. Fergusson was also there, who, they told me, had been imprisoned in Newgate for a riot some years ago; and Mr. Whittle Harvey, a particular friend of Lord Brougham, who has made a great complaint that he is not permitted to be a pleader in the courts here, being, as he thinks, fully entitled to be called to the bar. I saw, too, Mr. Jeffrey, the writer of the “ Edinburgh Review,” to whom I had been previously introduced; and Sir Edward Codrington, the admiral who did us so much good at Navarino, by crippling the Turks, who before that time were rather important allies of the English-he is a heavy man, but they say brave, and is called “Go it, Ned,”-the reason why, I was unable to learn. You may
remember how often we have endeavoured to comprehend in its true sense the meaning of the words "the liberty of the press," we fancying it meant the power of the Government to press sailors into the King's service. I found out my mistake : it means the privileges of the newspapers. Not only have the reporters of the papers seats assigned them in the gallery, but the public journals-or, as they are called now, the “ fourth estate,”-have their individual representatives in Parliament;—Mr. Walter represents the “ Times ;Mr. Cobbett represents his own Register;" My Baines represents the “ Leeds
Mercury;" Colonel Torrens represents the “Globe;" Mr. Buckingham represents the “ Parliamentary Review ;” Mr. Whittle Harvey the
Sunday Times ;” Mr. Spankie the “ Morning Chronicle:" this is quite as it should be,-especially, as I am told, that, although the Ministers here govern the
them. On the opposite side of the House I saw Sir Robert Peel, whom I knew; Mr. Goulburn; and Sir Henry Hardinge, whom I hate, not only for his participation in that ruinous battle of Waterloo, but for the manner in which he upholds everything English ; I cannot bear nationality of this sort. Cobbett was pointed out to me. He looks like a farmer,—but a very respectable one. And Hume I saw,-at whose calculations we used to have so many laughs when he was fancied by the mobility here, a much greater man than he passes for now ;-he is a remarkably ill-looking man, but married a great fortune. The history of his dissecting his brother is a true one. But he justifies his conduct by his solicitude to ascertain the complaint by which he lost him; and says—“ I cannot say that I dissected him, for I didn't. I only joost oppenned him to see what he died o’."
I was quite pleased to see Sir Francis Burdett looking so well. I met him afterwards, and he desired to be remembered to you; he was walking with Sir Charles Wetherell, which surprised me, knowing how their principles differ, but it seems the sharp edge of Sir Francis' politics is worn down ; which annoys some of his violent supporters, who swear he shall not represent Westminster again. If he does not, Lord Grey will make him a peer; he serves a great many people in that way
when he takes it into his head.
I heard Lord Palmerston speak upon the foreign policy of England, of all the men I ever heard, I like him the best, at least upon that topic; —there is something so liberal in his views,—so careless of what are called the interests of his country,-nothing selfish,—that I could have fancied one of our Deputies, or even Talleyrand himself, was discussing the subject. A Mr. Thompson-Monsieur Tonson-spoke, too, about trade and commerce; and also pleased me very much. You remember him in Paris, and the little on dits. They do not seem to mind those things here: but, be that as it may, Thompson is a treasure to us. I do not think that our excellent King—absolute as he has become, I still call him excellent-could have more efficient allies than Thompson and Palmerston ;—the latter they call Cupid; why I know not, except as his blindness is alluded to, for he is quite passé as to loveability.
I heard no eloquence, and I fancy myself a judge, for I am told, except young De N-, that nobody born in France writes with a better idiom than myself. The debate--if debate it could be called—consisted of merely questions and answers ; in which it seemed to me that the opposition had the best of it. The Speaker wears a long powdered wig, like one of their Judges here, and a silk gown; over his coat he had the red ribband of the Bath, of which he is a Knight Grand Cross.
I went two evenings after into the House of Lords, and there, to be sure, I saw such a scene as I never could have anticipated even in this shopkeeping country. Lord Brougham, who is the great liberal, and represents the “ Penny Magazine " in the Upper House, as Mr. Torrens does the “ Globe” in the other, was jumping and skipping about, shrieking out contradictions and hooting out assertions in a tone better suited to what they call here, pottouses (I don't know if that is the way
to spell the word) than such an august assembly. And then, -which I could not have believed if I had not seen it—a little bandy-legged fellow, in full dress, walked into the House and gave the Chancellor a glass of something, sufficiently strong to have killed a French post-horse, which they call “ groge, grogg;” and there was a noise, and á scuffle, and a pertness of reply, and an insolence of manner; in short, I said to myself, if this goes on much longer, what we hear of the abolition of this House of Lords is likely, at no great distance of time, to be verified.
Lord Brougham is desperately hideous; and so is Lord Durham. You remember the mistake which occurred at the Salon when he was living amongst us, and when some flippant observation of his, was met by a man's saying to him, “ Tais toi, Négre," mistaking him for a black. If I did not know this fact, I should have doubted it, because he is no more black than I am,– he is as yellow as a Napoleon.
He represents the “ Times,” I am told, and is very angry at the present state of affairs : however, all I hear is from our fair friend with the curls,—an authority which, I ought to say, has never yet deceived me.
I was taken the other night to Kensington Palace to the soirée given by the Duke of Sussex, as President of the Royal Society; we waited a long time before the Prince made his appearance, for he had a dinner party and they sat late. I was a good deal amused by the way in which he addressed his chaplain, whom he called Domine; and still more pleased with a joke, which I am afraid I can hardly explain to you, although you insist upon my writing to you in English :-There was a Doctor Peacock dancing attendance upon him, and his Royal Highness's great delight was to call him Dr. Peafowl; at which everybody laughed excessively.
He has a very fine library, and seems very anxious to pass for a savant. Like all the Royal Family, he is extremely affable and good natured, very big and black about the whiskers, which I think must be darkened by some preparation, for the family are universally fair. Some
die for love," perhaps His Royal Highness “ dyes for glory.” This is a pun which I shall leave you to make out.
I did not go to Oxford. I regret it because I have no doubt it was a fine spectacle ; but I own my pleasure would have been a good deal deteriorated by the sight of Wellington so honoured, so venerated, so worshipped, I may say, as he was there. I did not, however, abstain on that account, for we who travel are adepts in the agreeable dissimulation which dresses the countenance in smiles, while the heart is bitterly affected; but I felt, as the University had so decidedly refused our Ambassador a degree, that it would be offensive for any of us to attend. I ought to tell you a joke of M. de Talleyrand 'which will make
you smile. The Prince happened to call upon the Duke of Wellington just as he was looking at two or three of the robes which, at certain periods of the ceremony of his Installation, he was to wear at Oxford. Talleyrand could not avoid his jest. “So,” said he to his Grace, “ Canonicals ! Why, Duke, you are going to end just where I began.
The Duchess de Dino was a good deal cut up about the disappointment; and it was agreed that her not going should be put upon the illness of one of her children. I think I should have gone if they had; for I am told if Talleyrand had been made a Doctor, it was proposed that he and Lord Wynford should dance a pas de deux in the theatre.
It is the fashion with this overstarched religious nation, to go on
Sundays to the Zoological Gardens. I went there last Sunday with no compunctious visitings; but it does seem to me-the whole world is full of contradictions—that a steady, sober set of people, who at this moment are covering the table of the House of Commons with petitions for the better observance of the Sabbath, and to attain which end, three or four Bills are going through their Parliament, might, if they acted consistently, do something more suited to the day, than run to see an elephant wash, a rhinoceros canter, or little monkeys flirt. For us, luckily being what the vulgar folks here call Papists, we care little about such matters. Our Sunday is no day of gloom, and having performed our devotions, we feel ourselves justifiably fulfilling the injunctions of our Maker, by devoting to gaiety and pleasure the remainder of a day sanctified to Him, by the abstinence from all labour and care. But here, where I really believe many of the people go to evening church after having witnessed the washing of the beasts, it is too ridiculous !
One of the pious frauds which these very sedate islanders commit upon themselves, is that of having what they call Fancy Fairs for the benefit of certain charitable institutions. The people, I must own, are really and truly charitable—but they have a fashion even in that-instead of giving their guineas or pounds for those purposes, the young ladies go about and buy bits of gauze and ribband, and beads, and gum, and brushes, and gold paper, and artificial flowers; and bits of ribband and tinsel, and foil, and beads, and set themselves down to make little toys and trinkets, and card-cases, and purses, and watch-papers, and penwipers, and a variety of similar necessary articles which, at a certain time, they expose for sale in some public place, and the proceeds go to the uses of the favoured establishment. But lest these little innocent efforts, these pen-wipers, and purses, and card-cases, and watch-papers, should not fetch a sufficiently high price, the young ladies go themselves, and, undressing for the occasion in evening costume, stand behind the counters, firing off their most engaging looks and bewitching smiles in order to fascinate a crowd of strange men out of an extra shilling or two. And these are the shy misses who shudder at foreign assurance!
These fancy fairs are doubly bad; for while they reduce the daughters of the aristocracy to the level of boutiquières, they seriously injure the boutiquières whose vocation they so charitably assume. If they bought the articles and sold them again, the absurdity would be all the mischief; but when these ingenious young creatures, or, as the lower orders call them, “creechurs," club their talents to supersede the industry and destroy the profits of their inferiors, they do more serious injury to the hard-working and industrious classes, than they do of good to the institutions for which they profess so great an interest.
I must, however, my dear Henriette, conclude my letter. You shall hear from me shortly again. Tell my aunt what you
think to my proceedings; and remember, if you write before I write again, it must be in English--that is our compact. Give my best love to G. and De S., and believe me, -Ever yours affectionately,
N.B. The signature is a fac-simile,