A MORNING'S WALK FROM
LONDON TO KEW.
By SIR RICHARD PHILLIPS.
PRINTED BY J. ADLARD, 23, BARTHOLOMEW-CLOSE; SOLD BY JOHN SOUTER, 1, PATERNOSTER-ROW; AND BY ALL BOOKSELLERS.
The Author of the following Observations, made during A MORNING'S WALK, will doubtless be allowed to possess but a moderate degree of literary ambition. He has not qualified himself, by foreign travels, to transport his readers above the clouds, on the Andes, the Alps, or the Apennines; to alarm them by descriptions of Earthquakes, or Eruptions; or to astonish them by accounts of tremendous Chasms, Caverns, and Cataracts: but he has restricted his researches to subjects of home scenery, which thousands can daily examine after him; and consequently has not enjoyed that latitude of fancy, or been able to exercise any of those rare powers of hearing and seeing, by means of which travellers into distant regions are enabled to stimulate curiosity and monopolize fame.
The class of readers who seek for sources of pleasure beyond the ordinary course of nature, will therefore feel disappointment in attempting to follow a pedestrian tourist through a route so destitute of wonders. Nor will this feeling, it is to be feared, be confined to searchers after supernatural phenomena in regard to the facts which appertain to such a work. In the sentiments which accompany his narrations, it will be found that the Author, accustomed to think for himself, admits no standards of truth superior to the evidence of the senses and the deductions of reason; consequently, that his conclusions on many important topics are at variance with existing practices, whenever it appears they have no better foundation than the continuity of prejudices and the arbitrary laws of custom. He therefore entertains very serious doubts whether his work will be acceptable to those learned Professors in Universities, who teach no doctrines or opinions but those of their predecessors; or whether it will suit Students, whose advancement depends on their submission to the dogmata of such superiors. He questions whether it will ever be quoted as an authority by Statesmen who consider the will of princes as standards of wisdom;—by Legislators who barter away their votes, and decide on the presumed integrity of ministers and leaders;—by Politicians who banish the moral feelings from their practices;—or by Economists who do not consider individual happiness as the primary object of their calculations. Nor is he more sanguine that his work will prove agreeable to those Natural Philosophers who account for phenomena by the operation of virtues or influences which have no mechanical contact;—or to those Metaphysicians who conceive that truth can be exhibited only in the sophistical subtleties of the schools displayed in the mazy labyrinths of folios and quartos;—or to those Theologians who maintain that the obligations of reason and morality are superseded by those of Faith. While, in regard to those Topographers and Antiquaries whose studies are bounded by dates of erection, catalogues of occupants, and copies of tomb-stones;—to those Naturalists who receive delight from enumerations of Linnaean names of herbs, shrubs, and trees, and from Wernerian descriptions of rocks;—to those Bibliomaniacs who value a book in the inverse ratio of the information it contains;—and to those learned Philologists who see no beauties in modern tongues, and affect to find (but without anticipating any of them,) all modern discoveries of Natural Philosophy in Homer, and all improvements of mental Philosophy in the mysteries of Plato—the author deeply laments his utter inability to accommodate either his taste, his feelings, or his conclusions.
In regard to the spirit, tone, and character of the author's opinions, they have necessarily emanated from the state of knowledge, in an era when, at the termination of four centuries after the adoption of Printing, mankind have achieved four great objects; (1,) in the REVIVAL of Literature, and REGENERATION of Philosophy; (2,) in the EMANCIPATION of Christendom from the systematic thraldom of Popery; (3,) in the assertion of THE RIGHTS OF MAN, against overwhelming usurpations; and (4,) in the establishment of A SPIRIT OF FREE ENQUIRY, which constitutes the vivifying energy of the age in which we live, and promises the most important results in regard to the future condition and happiness of the human race.
The accomplishment of these circumstances has generated, in all countries, a numerous class of readers, among whom are many Professors, Philosophers, Statesmen, Politicians, Theologians, Antiquaries, Naturalists, and eminent Scholars; besides Amateurs of general Literature, with whose taste, feelings, and principles, the Author of this volume is anxious to identify his own, and whose favourable opinion he is ambitious to enjoy;—these are the free and honest searchers after MORAL, POLITICAL, and NATURAL TRUTH,—the votaries of COMMON SENSE,—the patients of their NATURAL SENSIBILITIES,—all, who are neither TOO OLD, TOO POWERFUL, nor TOO WISE,—and, finally, all those WHO PASS THEIR LIVES IN SEARCH OF HAPPINESS, and who are not unwilling to be pleased, in whatsoever form, or by whomsoever the attempt may be made:
TO SUCH ESTIMABLE PERSONS, IN ALL COUNTRIES, AND IN ALL SITUATIONS, THE AUTHOR RESPECTFULLY DEDICATES THIS VOLUME.
Holloway, Middlesex; February 8, 1817.
St. James's Park Beggars Milk Fair Regent's Palace Washington and Alfred Public Offices Military Slaves Country Residents St. James's Palace Promenade in the Mall Suggested Improvements Pimlico The Ty-bourn Isle of St. Peter's Chelsea Ranelagh Chelsea Buns —— Hospital Villany of War Invalid without Arms A Centenarian Securities of Peace Caesar's Ford The Botanic Garden Don Saltero's Sir Thomas More Sir Hans Sloane Battersea Waste of Public Wealth Cupidity of Trade Insufficiency of Wealth Mr. Brunel's Saw Mills —— Shoe Manufactory Evils of Machinery Lord Bolingbroke's House York House An American Aloe Reflections on Pride Wandsworth Phenomena of Rivers Distilleries and Drunkenness Haunted House Causes of Superstition Population of Villages Iron-Rail Roads Borough of Garrat Garrat Elections Value of Popular Elections An Oil Mill An Iron Foundry Inutility of Machinery Demon of War A Country Assembly Vice of Balloting Plan for rendering Society social Characteristics of Novels —— Villages round London Condition of Poverty Poverty and Wealth contrasted Inadequate Remuneration of Labour Visit to Wandsworth Workhouse Philosophy of Roads Cruelty to Horses Value of good Foot-paths Citizen's Villas Axioms of Political Economy Putney Heath The Smoke of London Earl Spencer's Park Hartley's Fire-House Means of Preventing Fires in Houses, and on Female Dress The Telegraph System Suggested Extension of Interesting Prospect Reflections on the Metropolis Criminal Neglect of Statesmen Removal of Misery Death and Character of Mr. Pitt Indifference of Statesmen Fruit Trees preferable to Lumber Trees Roehampton Monastic Dwellings Inhabitants of Cottages Humility of Pride Pilton's Invisible Fences House and Character of Mr. Goldsmid Destructive Electric Storm Nature of Electricity investigated Secondary Causes discussed Security against Lightning The District described Dundas and Tooke contrasted Barnes Its Poor-House on a Common Wretchedness of Parish-Poor Geology of Barnes-Common Fitness and Harmony of Things Kit-Cat Club Rooms Tonson the Bookseller Effect of distant Bells Chiswick Church Barnes Church Enclosed Cemeteries Benevolence of Mr. Morris Tragedy of the Count and Countess D'Antraigues Horticultural Speculation of the Marquis de Chabannes Supply of London with Vegetables Shropshire and Welsh Girls Neglect of Public Cleanliness Cleanliness an Incentive of Virtue Mortlake Tomb of Partridge Pretensions of Astrology Doctrines of Fatality examined Free-Will and Necessity discussed Success of Predictions referable to the Doctrine of Chances Art of Fortune-Telling illustrated Tomb and Character of Alderman Barber Union and Multiplication of the Human Race Mortlake Church Picture of Parochial Happiness Cause of its Failure Genuine Religion characterized Vulgar Notions of Churches Belief in Ghosts exploded Reflections on the Deity Effluvia of Dead Bodies Impostures of Dr. Dee Virtues of Sir John Barnard Tomb of the Viscountess Sidmouth False Foundation of the late War Lesson to Mankind Patriotism of the Common Council of London Improved Psalmody of Gardiner Religious Statistics of Mortlake Uses and Abuses of Church Bells Dee's House Female Education discussed General Causes of Human Errors Proposed Improvement of Education Manufactory of Delft Ware Progress of the Arts Archiepiscopal Residence Mercy dispensed by the Catholic Priesthood Food and Charity by the same Enormous Walnut-Trees Box-Tree Arbour Disinterment of the Dead Abundant Manure of Religious Houses Reflections on Past Ages Origin of Superstition Progress of Mythology Intolerance of Philosophical Schools Invocation to Philosophy The Author's System of Physics Popular Schools recommended Addresses of Females Changes wrought by Rivers Alternate Conversion of Land and Sea The Primitive Earth Origin of Organization Laws of Inorganic Matter —— Vegetable Existences —— Loco-Motive Existences Principle of Vitality Questions of the First Philosophy Compatibility, Fitness, and Harmony, illustrated The Tides explained Phenomena of Rivers Causes of Sterility The Errors of Man in Society Interview with Gipsies Social Slavery characterized Gipsy Fortune-telling illustrated Instance of Vulgar Terror Kew Priory described Kew Its Chapel Tomb of Meyer Church Fees Tomb of Gainsborough Comparison of Poetry and Painting Tomb of Zoffany —— Hogarth —— Thomson The Author's Reflections and Conclusion
*.* To guard the work against some apparent anachronisms, it is proper to state, that the substance of the following Pages appeared in various Numbers of the Monthly Magazine, between the Years 1813 and 1816. In reprinting, in this form, many interpolations have been made, and some subjects of a temporary nature have been omitted: but it was often impossible, in treating of local situations, to avoid some reference to temporary circumstances.
A MORNING'S WALK FROM LONDON TO KEW.
We roam into unhealthy climates, and encounter difficulties and dangers, in search of curiosities and knowledge, although, if our industry were equally exerted at home, we might find in the tablets of Nature and Art, within our daily reach, inexhaustible sources of inquiry and contemplation. We are on every side surrounded by interesting objects; but, in nature, as in morals, we are apt to contemn self-knowledge, to look abroad rather than at home, and to study others instead of ourselves. Like the French Encyclopaedists, we forget our own Paris; or, like editors of newspapers, we seek for novelties in every quarter of the world, losing sight of the superior interests of our immediate vicinity.
These observations may perhaps serve as a sufficient apology for the narrative which follows:—existing notions, the love of the sublime, and the predilections above described, render it necessary for a home tourist to present himself before the public with modesty. The readers of voyages round the whole world, and of travels into unexplored regions of Africa and America, will scarcely be persuaded to tolerate a narrative of an excursion which began at nine in the morning and ended at six in the afternoon of the same day! Yet such, truly, are the Travels which afford the materials of the present narrative; they were excited by a fine morning in the latter days of April, and their scene was the high-road lying between London and Kew, on the banks of the Thames.
With no guide besides a map of the country round the metropolis, and no settled purpose beyond what the weather might govern, I strolled towards St. James's Park. In proceeding between the walls from Spring Gardens, I found the lame and the blind taking their periodical stations on each side of the passage.—I paused a few minutes to see them approach one after another as to a regular calling; or as players to take their stations and enact their settled parts in this drama. One, a fellow, who had a withered leg, approached his post with a cheerful air; but he had no sooner seated himself, and stripped it bare, than he began such hideous moans as in a few minutes attracted several donations. Another, a blind woman, was brought to her post by a little boy, who carelessly leading her against the step of a door, she petulantly gave him a smart box of the ear, and exclaimed, "D——n you, you rascal, can't you mind what you're about;"—and then, leaning her back to the wall, in the same breath, she began to chaunt a hymn, which soon brought contributions from many pious passengers.
The systematic movements of these people led me to inquire in regard to their conduct and policy from an adjacent shop-keeper, who told me, that about a dozen of them obtained a good living in that passage; that an attendance of about two hours per day sufficed to each of them, when, by an arrangement among themselves, they regularly succeed each other. He could not guess at the amounts thus collected, but he said, that he had once watched a noisy blind fellow for half an hour, and in that time saw thirty-four people give him at least as many halfpence; he thence, and from other observations, concluded that in two or three hours each of them collects five or six shillings! We cannot wonder then at the aversion entertained by these unhappy objects to the indiscriminate discipline of our common work-houses; nor can we blame the sympathy of those benevolent persons who contribute their mite to relieve the cries of distress with which they are assailed. But it excites our wonder and grief that statesmen, who have superfluous means for covering the country with barracks, should find themselves unable to establish comfortable asylums for all the poor who are incurably diseased, in which they should be so provided for, that it would be as criminal in them to ask, as in others to afford them, eleemosynary relief.
On my entrance into the Park, I was amused and interested by an assemblage of a hundred mothers, nurses, and valetudinarians, accompanied by as many children, who are drawn together at this hour every fine morning by the metropolitan luxury of milk warm from the cow. Seats are provided, as well as biscuits, and other conveniences, and here from sun-rise till ten o'clock continues a milk fair, distinguished by its peculiar music in the lowing of cows, and in the discordant squalling of the numerous children. The privilege of keeping these cows, and of selling their milk on this spot, belongs to the gate-keepers of the Park; and it must be acknowledged to be a great convenience to invalids and children, to whom this wholesome beverage and its attendant walk are often prescribed.
On the right hand stands the garden-wall of the puny, though costly, palace of the Regent, Prince of Wales. It is, however, fortunate, that it is not larger, if the expenditure of palaces, like that of private houses, were to keep pace with their bulk. The inside is adorned like the palace of Aladin; and a better notion of its splendour may be formed, by stating that it has cost the labours of twenty thousand men for a year, or of one thousand for twenty years, than that above a million sterling has at different times been expended upon the building and furniture. Yet, it is said that it forms but the eastern wing of a palace, which the architects of this Prince have projected, and that half the south side of Pall-Mall and considerable tracts of the Park will be appropriated to complete their plans, if approved by their royal patron. I am aware, that the love of shew in princes, and persons in authority, is often justified by the alledged necessity of imposing on the vulgar; but I doubt whether any species of imposition really produces the effect which the pomp of power is so willing to ascribe to it, as an excuse for its own indulgences. Nor ought it ever to be forgotten, that no tinsel of gaudy trappings, no architectural arrangements of stone or wood, no bands of liveried slaves, (however glossed in various hues, or disguised by various names,) can sustain the glory of any power which despises public opinion, forgets the compact between all power and the people, violates the faith of public treaties, and measures its moral obligations, not by the sense of justice, but by considerations of expediency and self-interest! On this important, though almost exhausted, topic, it should be known by all Princes who covet true glory, that Washington the Great hired no armed men to sustain his power, that his habits were in all things those of a private citizen, and that he kept but one coach, merely for occasions of state—his personal virtues being his body-guards—the justice of his measures constituting the strength of his government,—the renown of his past deeds enshrining him with more splendour than could be conferred by the orders of all the courts in Europe—his unquestionable love of public liberty endearing him to the people over whom he presided—and the pure flame of his patriotism causing him to appear in their eyes as a being more than mortal! Britain might envy America her Washington, if she could not herself boast of an Alfred, worthy also of being called the Great—a sovereign who voluntarily conceded liberty to his people, and founded it on bases which all the inglorious artifices of his successors have been unable to undermine—but, alas! such men, like Epic poets, seem destined to succeed but once in a thousand years!
On the left hand I beheld, in various magnificent erections, the germs of innumerable associations, gratifying to the vice of national pride; but affording little pleasure to one whose prejudices of principle, and habits of thinking, have taught him to estimate all human labours by their influence on the happiness of the sentient creatures to whom the earth is a common inheritance. There was the British Admiralty—the just pride of a people's defence against foreign invaders—but less worthy of admiration, if ever used as an instrument of ambition, or as a means of gratifying base passions. There was the British War-Office, of which a Briton can say little, who doubts the policy of the colonial system, who feels a conviction that "Britain's best bulwarks are her wooden walls," and who thinks that the sword should never be wielded but by citizen soldiers, nor ever be used till the constable's staff has been exerted in vain. And there was the British Treasury, the talisman of whose power has destroyed the efficacy of title-deeds, and converted the land and houses of the empire into paper-money and stock-debts, for the purpose of carrying on wars and performing deeds, which impartial history will justly characterize, when alas! the truth will be useless to the suffering victims!
Just at this moment I beheld several bands of armed men, disguised in showy liveries, drawn up in array to exercise themselves for combat. But, having no taste for such mistakes of power, and being in no degree deluded by the gloss of their clothes, the glitter of their murderous weapons, or the abuse of celestial harmony in the skill of their musicians, I silently invoked the energies of truth to remove from the understandings of men, that cloud which permits such illusions to be successful. No legitimate power, like that of the government of England, founded on such bases as Magna Charta, the laws of Edward the First, the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights, and the Act of Settlement, can, for its lawful purposes, ever stand in need, in a properly educated community, of the support of a single man armed with a murderous weapon.
These piles of buildings, ranged in a semi-circular form, are imposing on, the eye from their magnitude, and on the imagination from their fame. I paused to enjoy their perspective; but, is not senseless WAR, I exclaimed, even now ravaging or disturbing the four quarters of the world, and is it not from this scite that it receives its impulse and direction? I charitably hoped that mere errors of judgment had guided the councils of the men who inhabit these buildings—but I sickened as I thought of the consequences of their errors, perhaps at that moment displayed in distant parts of the earth in agonies of despair and in smoking ruins—and, to avoid the succession of feelings which were so painful, yet so unavailing, I turned away from the spot.
In my way towards and along the Mall, I remarked that few were walking in my direction; but that all the faces and foot-steps were earnestly directed towards London. The circumstance exemplified that feature of modern manners which leads thousands of those who are engaged in the active business of the metropolis to sleep, and to keep their families, in neighbouring villages. These thousands walk or ride, therefore, every day to and from London, at hours corresponding with the nature and urgency of their employments. Before nine o'clock the various roads are covered with clerks of the public offices, and with bankers' and merchants' clerks, who are obliged to be at their posts at that hour, all exhibiting in their demeanor the ease of their hearts. From nine till eleven, you see shop-keepers, stock-brokers, lawyers, and principals in various establishments, bustling along with careful and anxious countenances, indicative of their various prospects and responsibilities. At twelve, saunters forth the man of wealth and ease, going to look at his balances, orders, or remittances; or merely to read the papers and hear the news; yet demonstrating the folly of wealth by his gouty legs, or cautious rheumatic step. Such is the routine of the Park, along which no carriages are allowed to pass; but other avenues into the metropolis present, through every forenoon, besides lines of pedestrians, crowded stage-coaches, private coaches, and chariots, numerous gigs and chaises, and many equestrians.
I amused myself with a calculation of the probable number of persons who thus every day, between eight and six, pass to and from London within a distance of seven miles. In the present route I concluded the numbers to be something like the following, 200 from Pimlico, 300 from Chelsea, 200 from the King's Road and Sloane Street, 50 from Fulham and Putney, and 50 from Battersea and Wandsworth; making 800 per day. If then, there are twenty such avenues to the metropolis, it appears that the total of the regular ingress and egress will be 16,000 persons, of whom perhaps 8,000 walk, 2,000 arrive in public conveyances, and 6,000 ride on horseback, or in open or close carriages. Such a phenomenon is presented no-where else in the world; and it never can exist except in a city which unites the same combined features of population, wealth, commerce, and the varied employments which belong to our own vast metropolis.
I observed with concern that this Park presents a neglected appearance. The seats are old and without paint, and many vacancies exist in the lines of the trees. The wooden railing round the centre is heavy and decayed, and the appearance of every part is unworthy of a metropolitan royal domain, adjoining the constant residence of the court. I was also struck with the aspect of St. James's Palace in ruins! A private dwelling after a fire would have been restored in a few weeks or months; but the nominal palace of the four preceding sovereigns of England, the last of the Stuarts and three first of the Guelphs, and the scene of their chief grandeur, presents even to the contemporary generation a monument of the instability of every human work. The door at which Margaret Nicholson made her attempt on the life of George the Third, and at which the people were used to see that monarch enter and depart for many years past, is now a chaos of ruins; as is that entire suite of apartments which led to those drawing-rooms in which the Court was accustomed to assemble, till within these five years, on birth and gala days!—He would have been deemed a false and malignant prophet, who seven years ago might have foretold that the public Palace of the Kings of England would so soon become a heap of unrepaired ruins, and its splendid chambers "the habitation of the fowls of the air." Yet, such has been the fact, in regard to the eastern apartments of this famous Palace!
My spirits sunk, and a tear started into my eyes, as I brought to mind those crowds of beauty, rank, and fashion, which, till within these few years, used to be displayed in the centre Mall of this Park on Sunday evenings during the spring and Summer. How often in my youth had I been a delighted spectator of the enchanted and enchanting assemblage! Here used to promenade, for one or two hours after dinner, the whole British world of gaiety, beauty, and splendour! Here could be seen in one moving mass, extending the whole length of the Mall, five thousand of the most lovely women, in this country of female beauty, all splendidly attired, and accompanied by as many well-dressed men! What a change, I exclaimed, has a few years wrought in these once happy and cheerful personages!—How many of those who on this very spot then delighted my eyes are now mouldering in the silent grave!—And how altered are all their persons, and perhaps their fortunes and feelings! Alas, that gay and fascinating scene no longer continues, and its very existence is already forgotten by the new generation! A change of manners has put an end to this unparalleled assemblage, to this first of metropolitan pleasures, though of itself it was worth any sacrifice. The dinner hour of four and five, among the great, or would-be great, having shifted to the unhealthy hours of eight or nine, the promenade after dinner, in the dinner full-dress, is consequently lost. The present walk in the Green-Park does not possess therefore the attractions of high rank; while the morning assemblages in Hyde-Park and Kensington-Gardens, though gay and imposing, have little splendour of dress, and lose the effect produced by the presence of rank and distinguished character, owing to the greater part of the company being shut up in carriages.
The modern custom of abandoning the metropolis for the sea-coast, or the country, as soon as the fine weather sets in, operates too as another draw-back from the fascination and agreeableness of our Sunday promenades. Ancient manners, in the capricious whirl of fashion, may however again return; and, if the dinner-hour should recede back to four, I trust the luxury and splendour of this delightful Mall will be restored.
These Parks may be denominated the Lungs of the metropolis, for they are essential to the healthful respiration of its inhabitants, by contributing to their cheap and innocent pleasures. Under a wise and benevolent administration, they might be made to add still more to the public happiness, and it would be a suitable homage of the government to the people, to render these promenades as attractive as possible. The two bands of the Guards might be allowed to play in the Malls for two hours every evening, between Lady-day and Michaelmas, and the number and construction of the seats might be increased and improved. Such measures would indicate, at least, a desire in the governors to contribute to the happiness of the governed, and would occasion the former to appear to the latter in a more grateful character than as mere assessors of taxes, and as organs of legal coercion.
At Pimlico, the name of Stafford-Row reminded me of the ancient distinction of Tart-Hall, once the rival in size and splendour of its more fortunate neighbour, Buckingham-House, and long the depository of the Arundelian Tablets and Statues. It faced the Park, on the present scite of James-Street; its garden-wall standing where Stafford-Row is now built, and the extensive livery-stables being once the stables of its residents.
I turned aside on the left, to view the river Tye, or Ty-bourn, which runs from the top of Oxford-street, under May-Fair, across Piccadilly, south-east of Buckingham-House, under the pavement of Stafford-Row, and across Tothill-Fields, into the Thames. It is a fact, equally lost, that the creeks which run from the Thames, in the swamps, opposite Belgrave-Place, once joined the canal in St. James's-Park, and, passing through White-Hall, formed, by their circuit, the ancient isle of St. Peter's. Their course has been filled up between the wharf of the water-works and the end of the canal in St. James's-Park; and the Isle of St. Peter's is no longer to be traced. It is singular that such a marsh should have become the focus of the government, jurisprudence, and power, of this great empire! Yet, so it is, the offices of Government, the Houses of Parliament, and the Supreme Courts of Law, stand on the lowest ground in or near the metropolis; the greater part of which is still the swamp of Tothill and Milbank-Fields; and the whole is exposed to the inundations of land-floods or extraordinary tides. A moralist would say, that such bulwarks of a nation ought to have been seated on a rock—a wit would refer to the nature of the soil, the notorious corruptions of the body-politic—and a votary of superstition would ascribe the splendid fortunes of the scite to the favour of heaven, as announced in the vision to the monks who, eleven hundred years since, built Westminster-Abbey, in so unpromising a situation!
The wall of what are called the Gardens of Buckingham House, form one side of the main street of Pimlico; but these gardens consist merely of a gravel walk, shaded by trees, with a spacious and unadorned area in the centre. The whole, is the property of Queen Charlotte, and is inaccessible to a visit of mere curiosity.
The water-works, to the left of the road, supply Pimlico and part of Westminster with water, and, I may add, with smoke, of which it emits large volumes, though there are so many contrivances for consuming it. It consists simply of a steam and forcing engine, not remarkable for novelty or ingenuity of construction. Opposite stands the manufactory of the ingenious Bramah, whose locks baffle knavery, and whose condensing engines promise such important results to philosophy and the mechanic arts. Belgrave-Place, lower and upper, proves the avidity of building-speculations, which could thus challenge the prejudices against the opposite marshes. But I was assured by a resident of twenty years, that he and his family had enjoyed uninterrupted health in Upper Belgrave-Place, and that such was the general experience.
On entering Chelsea, I was naturally led to inquire for the scite of the once gay Ranelagh! I passed up the avenue of trees, which I remember often to have seen blocked up with carriages. At its extremity, I looked for the Rotunda and its surrounding buildings; but, as I could not see them, I concluded, that I had acquired but an imperfect idea of the place, in my nocturnal visits! I went forward, on an open space, but still could discern no Ranelagh! At length, on a spot covered with nettles, thistles, and other rank weeds, I met a working man, who, in answer to my inquiries, told me, that he saw I was a stranger, or I should have known that Ranelagh had been pulled down, and that I was then standing on the scite of the Rotunda!
Reader, imagine my feelings, for I cannot analyze them! This vile place, I exclaimed, the scite of the once-enchanting Ranelagh!—It cannot be—the same eyes were never destined to see such a metamorphosis! All was desolation!—A few inequalities appeared in the ground, indicative of some former building, and holes filled with muddy water shewed the foundation walls—but the rest of the space, making about two acres, was covered with clusters of tall nettles, thistles, and docks!
On a more accurate survey, I traced the circular foundation of the Rotunda, and at some distance discovered the broken arches of some cellars, once filled with the choicest wines, but now with dirty water! Further on were marks against a garden wall, indicating, that the water-boilers for tea and coffee had once been heated there! I traced too the scite of the orchestra, where I had often been ravished by the finest performances of vocal and instrumental music! My imagination brought the objects before me; I fancied I could still hear an air of Mara's; I turned my eye aside, and what a contrast appeared!—No glittering lights!—No brilliant happy company!—No peals of laughter from thronged boxes!—No chorus of a hundred instruments and voices!—All was death-like stillness! Is such, I exclaimed, the end of human splendour?—Yes, truly, all is vanity—and here is a striking example!—Here are ruins and desolation, even without antiquity! I am not mourning said I, over the remains of Babylon or Carthage—ruins sanctioned by the unsparing march of time!—But here it was all glory and splendour, even yesterday! Here, but seven years have flown away, and I was myself one of three thousand of the gayest mortals ever assembled, in one of the gayest scenes which the art of man could devise—aye, on this very spot—yet the whole is now changed into the dismal scene of desolation before me!—Full of such reflections, I cast my eyes eastward, when Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Church presented themselves in a continued line—Ah! thought I, that line may at some distant epoch enable the curious antiquary to determine the scite of our British Daphne; but I could not avoid feeling, that if the pile of Ranelagh and its glories have so totally disappeared, in so short a season, no human work, even yonder colossal specimens of Gothic and Grecian art, or the great Metropolis itself, can be deemed a standard of locality for the guide of distant ages! I moved pensively from a spot which exciting such solemn and affecting emotions, had diminished the vigour of my frame by exhausting my nervous energies.
I soon turned the corner of a street which took me out of sight of the space on which once stood the gay Ranelagh; but it will be long ere I can remove from my heart the poignant sensations to which its sudden destruction had given rise.
 I afterwards learnt in Chelsea, that, latterly, Ranelagh did not pay the proprietors five per cent. for their capital, and therefore they sold the materials to the best bidder.
Before me appeared the shops so famed for Chelsea buns, which, for above thirty years, I have never passed without filling my pockets. In the original of these shops, for even of Chelsea buns there are counterfeits, are preserved mementos of domestic events, in the first half of the past century. The bottle-conjuror is exhibited in a toy of his own age; portraits are also displayed of Duke William and other noted personages; a model of a British soldier, in the stiff costume of the same age; and some grotto-works, serve to indicate the taste of a former owner, and were perhaps intended to rival the neighbouring exhibition at Don Saltero's. These buns have afforded a competency, and even wealth; to four generations of the same family; and it is singular, that their delicate flavour, lightness and richness, have never been successfully imitated. The present proprietor told me, with exultation, that George the Second had often been a customer of the shop; that the present King, when Prince George, and often during his reign, had stopped and purchased his buns; and that the Queen, and all the Princes and Princesses, had been among his occasional customers.
A little further to the west, is a vulgar sign of Nell Gwyn, to whose female sensibility, and influence on royalty, are ascribed the foundation of the adjoining hospital for invalid soldiers. If the mistresses of Princes always made a similar use of their ascendency, and were to teach their royal lovers to respect the duties of humanity, and build hospitals for the victims of their idiotic ambition, the world would complain less of their extravagancies and vices. The excellent hearts of women might warrant such an expectation; but, unhappily, this depraved portion of the sex generally part with their feminine sensibilities, at the same time that they part with their character and modesty. Contemned, despised, or neglected by the world, they become haters of their species, and too commonly make use of their power, to avenge on society the personal affronts which they are compelled to endure.
The approach to the hospital was indicated by the appearance of numbers of mutilated soldiers. It afflicted me, to see young men of two or three and twenty, some of whom had lost both their arms, and others both their legs! I learnt, on enquiry, that a few living objects of this description are all that now remain of regiments of their comrades! The rest had been killed in battle, or had died of fatigue, or camp diseases! The querulous why, and for what, still crossed my imagination; but I again referred such busy doubts to ministers! I may be wrong; they cannot be wrong! No! they must be right, or such things would not be. I confess, notwithstanding, that it deeply afflicts me that such things are; yet how is the play of human passions to be avoided, and how are the mischiefs of living errors to be corrected? Words, arguments, morality, and religion, at the commencement of a quarrel, are exerted in vain—the storm of bad passions carries, for a season, all before it—and after mischiefs are irretrievably perpetrated, reason and experience produce repentance, when, alas, it is useless! Princes and statesmen are too proud and powerful to permit themselves to be instructed, or I would advise them on such occasions to doubt their imaginary infallibility. Let them solemnly doubt whenever some mischief, which they cannot repair, must be the consequence of their decision; and when that decision may, perchance, arise from some mistake! But I fear this just maxim of Philosophy will never become a practical rule of policy strong enough to counteract the benefits of extended patronage enjoyed during wars by corrupt ministers; to allay the puerile love of glory cherished by weak princes; or to subdue the demoniacal passions and irrational prejudices artfully excited by rulers, and too often cherished by infatuated nations.
I accosted a young man, who had lost both arms, and was walking pensively between the trees. After some expressions of heart-felt commisseration, I enquired by what mischance he had met with so untoward a wound? He told me that he was in the act of loading his musket, when a cannon-ball, passing before him, carried off one arm above the elbow, and so shattered the other, that it was necessary to amputate it. He then named some paltry battle where this accident befel him; the issue of which to either of the contending parties was, as I recollected, not worth the joint of a little finger, even if the entire object of the campaign, or war, was worth so much! But, said I, you are of course well provided for in the hospital—"No, (he replied,) there is not room for me at present; but, owing to the severity of my wounds, I have a double allowance as an out-pensioner—yet, (he modestly remarked,) it may easily be supposed that even a double allowance is not enough for a man who cannot help himself in any thing—I cannot dress myself, nor even eat or drink, but am obliged to be fed like a child; I have a poor old mother who does her best for me, or"——here the young man's voice faultered, and some tears hung on his cheeks—for, alas, even these he could neither wipe away nor conceal! Parched must have been the eye that would not mingle tears with those of this poor fellow, on hearing the tale of his unchangeable fate! I found too that my own utterance sympathized with his—but, shewing him a shilling—and indicating, by signs, the difficulty I felt in putting him in possession of it—"here sir," said he, "and God bless you;" then, stooping with his mouth, I put it between his lips!—Ah, thought I, as I turned from this wretched object, the most hard-hearted of those who were concerned in breaking public treaties, and rejecting overtures for peace, would have relented, if with my feelings they had beheld this single victim of the millions that have been imolated, to the calculations of their fallible policy.
I now enquired for veterans—for Fontenoy men—Culloden men—Minden men—Quebec men! To some of the two last I was introduced; but I found them blind, deaf, maimed, and childish! What a sickening picture of human nature, whether we consider the causes, objects, or consequences! Among these hoary and crippled heroes, I was introduced to one who is now in his hundred and first year! His name is Ardenfair, and he is a native of Dorsetshire. He entered into the Marines about the year 1744; was in Anson's action, in 1747; and in Hawke's, in 1759. This veteran sees, talks, hears, and remembers well; and it is remarkable, that he performs the daily drudgery of sweeping the gravel-walks, and wheeling water in a barrow! One wonders at the ability to perform such labour, in a Centenarian; that such a one should be allowed to be the sweeper of the hospital; and still more, that his age had not recommended him to the special bounty of the officers. It might be expected, that the successive fathers of these invalids would, at all times, be exempted from ordinary duties, and receive some additional means of cheering their extension of life, so long beyond the ordinary duration.
On the north-east border of this hospital, I was shewn a new erection, nearly of the same size, devoted to the education of the children of soldiers. It is, I am told, a very interesting establishment to those who view with complacency the favourite system of Germanizing the English people—but how inadequate are all such institutions, to repay the obligations of any government to its invalided soldiers, if ambition, prejudice, or a love of false glory, may, on light grounds, cover the earth with bleeding and mangled victims! As each of the veterans in such hospitals is often the solitary survivor of a thousand, of whom the complement have fallen premature victims of the cruel accidents of war, the authors ought not to conclude that they atone for their crimes by lodging, feeding, and cloathing the thousandth man, when he is no longer able to serve their purposes!
Mankind are, however, so selfish, that nothing but the experience or the imminent danger of great sufferings seems likely to correct the errors of governments and the infatuations of people on the subject of war. The best security of peace is, consequently, the danger that the chances of war may bring its scourges home to the fire-sides of either of the belligerents. The fears of nations have, therefore, taught them the duty of doing to each other as they would be done unto. It forms, however, a new epoch in the history of society, that, owing to their insular situation, the passions of one great people are unchecked by this salutary fear; and public morality, in consequence, has stood in need of some new stimulus, to relieve the world from the danger of suffering interminable slaughters. What a TEST this new situation afforded to the powers of Christianity! But for twenty years, alas, Christianity has TOTALLY FAILED, and pretended zealots of the religion of peace and charity have been even among the most furious abettors of implacable war!
Opposite the superb terrace of the Hospital gardens, stands a tea-drinking house, called the Red House; and about fifty yards on the western side of it is the place at which Caesar crossed the Thames. The reader who has read Stukeley's reasons for fixing on Chertsey as the place of this celebrated passage, may startle at the positive affirmation here made. Stukeley says that the name of Chertsey is all Caesar; so also is Chelsea, by analogies equally natural. London, or Lyn-dyn, was then the chief town in South Britain, and would, as matter of course, be the place towards which the Britons would retreat and the Romans advance. Landing near Deal, they would cross the river at the ford nearest their place of landing, and would not be likely to march to Chertsey, if they could cross at Chelsea; and the marshes of the Thames, to which the Britons retreated, would correspond better with the marshes of Lambeth and Battersea than with the low lands near Chertsey, where the river is inconsiderable, and where there is no tide to confer strength and military character on the marshes. This ford, from the Red House to the Bank, near the scite of Ranelagh, still remains; and I have surveyed it more than once. At ordinary low water, a shoal of gravel, not three feet deep, and broad enough for ten men to walk abreast, extends across the river, except on the Surrey side, where it has been deepened by raising ballast. Indeed, the causeway from the south bank may yet be traced at low water; so that this was doubtless a ford to the peaceful Britons, across which the British army retreated before the Romans, and across which they were doubtless followed by Caesar and the Roman legions. The event was pregnant with such consequences to the fortunes of these islands, that the spot deserves the record of a monument, which ought to be preserved from age to age, as long as the veneration due to antiquity is cherished among us. Who could then have contemplated that the folly of Roman ambition would be the means of introducing arts among the semi-barbarous Britons, which, in eighteen hundred and forty years, or after the lapse of nearly sixty generations, would qualify Britain to become mistress of Imperial Rome; while one country would become so exalted, and the other be so debased, that the event would excite little attention, and be deemed but of secondary importance? Possibly after another sixty generations, the posterity of the savage tribes near Sierra Leone, or New Holland, may arbitrate the fate of London, or of Britain, as an affair of equal indifference!
I passed a few minutes in the famous Botanic Garden of the Apothecaries' Company, founded at Chelsea by Sir Hans Sloane. It was the first establishment of the kind in England, but has now for some years been superseded in fame and variety by the Royal Gardens at Kew. It still however merits notice, as containing specimens of all the plants recognized in the Materia Medica, and with that view is maintained, at a heavy expence to the company, for the use of medical students. The company's Professor of Botany annually gives lectures at this institution to the apprentices of the members, and accompanies them in simpling excursions in the country round the metropolis. The statue of the public spirited founder still adorns the garden; and the famous cedars of Lebanon add an air of solemn grandeur to the whole, which could be conferred by no other objects of nature or art. The conservatories are on a grand scale; and so many interesting exotics claimed my notice, that I could have passed a week or a month in contemplating them.
In Cheyne Walk, facing the Thames, I sought for the Museum and Coffee-house of Don Saltero, renowned in the swimming exploits of Franklin. Here stands the same house, and it is still a place of entertainment; but, about ten years ago, the lease expired, when the rarities, presented by so many collectors, to the spirited Barber Salter, (nicknamed, Don Saltero,) were sold by public auction.
A little farther stands the ancient and unostentatious palace of the Bishops of Winchester, and here has resided the venerable Brownlow North, during the thirty-three years that he has filled that wealthy see; and, a hundred yards to the west, I surveyed, with becoming interest, the decayed premises, now a paper-hanging manufactory, which once was the residence of the witty Sir Thomas More, and where, as it is recorded, he entertained Erasmus. I was, therefore, on classic ground; though Faulkner, in his amusing History of Chelsea, ascribes the residence of the Chancellor to another situation. The men who adorned the era of the revival of learning, and, as its patrons, furnished us with weapons by which to deprive imposition of its powers, are well entitled to our esteem; but many of them were entangled in the bridle, by whose means more crafty persons had long rode on the backs of mankind. Thus the friendship and intercourse of sir Thomas More and Erasmus were founded on their mutual zeal in behalf of those ecclesiastical frauds which for so many ages had subdued every scintillation of reason. They were, in their days, among the adherents of Popish superstition, what Symmachus had been to the Roman polytheists in the age of Theodosius—what Peter the Hermit was to the fanatics of the darker ages—and what Burke was to the bigotted politicians at the dawn of liberty in France. Erasmus, it is true, exposed, with great ability much priestcraft and statecraft, yet his learning and labours were, for the chief part, devoted to the support of certain irrational points of theological faith; and poor Sir Thomas More lost his head on the scaffold rather than aid his less fastidious sovereign in overturning the spiritual supremacy of the bishops of Rome. We may honour the conscientious scruples of such men; but, enabled, as we now are, to view their errors at a proper focal distance, we are warranted, by their example, in drawing the inference that the highest human authorities are no tests of truth, and that great energies of intellect often serve but to strengthen prejudices, and give mischievous force to aberrations of reason.
The tomb of Sir Hans Sloane caught my eye as I passed the corner of the church-yard, but not in so good a condition as the improved value of his estates might warrant one to expect. It is surmounted by the mystic symbols of the egg and serpent, in a good style of sculpture. Part of the church is precisely what it was when the Chancellor More regularly formed part of its congregation.
In crossing the bridge to Battersea, I was called upon to pay toll, and was informed, that this bridge is private property.—A bridge across a great river, in a civilized country, private property!—Is not this monstrous, thought I, in a country in which seventy millions of taxes are collected per annum, and which has accumulated a debt of nine hundred millions since the accession of the house of Guelph? Yet, if bridges remain private property, FOR WHAT BENEFIT has so much money been expended? Have bridges, or hospitals, or schools, or houses for the poor, been built with the money?—It seems not!—Have roads been made—canals cut—rivers widened—harbours improved?—No, these are private and interested speculations! What then, I exclaimed, has been done with it?
If this bridge cost twenty thousand pounds, one million of the nine hundred would have built fifty such bridges!—Yet, the war in the Peninsula, for the purpose of setting up the bigotted Ferdinand in place of the liberal Joseph, costs the country three millions per month; or as much as would build a hundred and fifty fine bridges over the principal rivers of the empire! Another three millions would build a hundred and fifty great public hospitals for the incurable poor! A third such sum would make fifty thousand miles of good roads! And a fourth would construct three thousand miles of canal, or ten or twelve such as the Grand Junction Canal! That is to say, all these substantial benefits might be produced to the country by a few weeks' cost of the war in the Peninsula; a war of such doubtful benefit, either to England, to Spain, or to humanity!
At the distance of a hundred yards from Battersea Bridge, an extensive pile of massy brickwork, for the manufactory of Soap, has recently been erected, at a cost, it is said, of sixty thousand pounds. I was told it was inaccessible to strangers, and therefore was obliged to content myself with viewing it at a distance. Such vast piles are not uncommon in and near London; yet how great and certain must be the profits of a commodity to warrant the expenditure of such large capitals before there can be any return! It might seem too that a man possessed of sixty thousand pounds, or of as much as, at the present value of money, would purchase for ever the constant labour of from above sixty to eighty men, would have avoided the hazards of trade.—Yet in England it is not so—the avaricious spirit of commerce despises all mediocrity—care is preferred to enjoyment—and the ends of life are sacrificed to the means! It has always been the foible of man not to be contented with the good he possesses, but to look forward to happiness in the anticipation of something which he hopes to attain. Thus, few congratulate themselves on the comforts they enjoy, or consider the consequences of losing them; but, neglectful of blessings in hand, rush forward in quest of others which they may never be able to obtain, and which, when possessed, are again as little enjoyed.
Poets, divines, and moralists, have asserted this important truth in all ages; but have failed to cure the delusion, though it is at once the cause of the greater part of the miseries of individuals, and of the mischievous errors of governments. Moses guarded against it by new subdivisions of property in every year of jubilee; but the fraternal regulations of the family of Abraham are not conceived to be applicable to the whole family of man, as blended in modern nations; and statesmen and economists now think it better that endless competitions should be encouraged, and indefinite accumulations tolerated, than that industry should be checked by any regard to the personal happiness which might result from moderated and bounded wealth. Hence, he that has health and strength to labour for his own subsistence is not contented unless he can accumulate enough to purchase the labour of others—and he who has enough to purchase the labours of fifty, is miserable if another can purchase the labours of sixty—while he who can purchase the labours of a thousand is still wretched if some other can purchase the labours of two thousand. In the wilds of Africa and America, men suffer every species of misery for want of the impulse created by the reward of labour; whereas the suffering is little less, though varied in kind, from the gradations created in long-established societies by the insatiable cravings of avarice! I am aware that it is hazardous to discuss a subject which probes to the quick the sensibility of pride; yet this is a social problem which merits the consideration of all statesmen who are anxious to promote the happiness of communities; and it ought not to be lost sight of by any future Solon who may be called upon to ameliorate the condition of his country.
At a few yards from the toll-gate of the bridge, on the Western side of the road, stand the work-shops of that eminent, modest, and persevering mechanic, Mr. Brunel; a gentleman of the rarest genius, who has effected as much for the Mechanic Arts as any man of his time. The wonderful apparatus in the dock-yard at Portsmouth, by which he cuts blocks for the navy, with a precision and expedition that astonish every beholder, secures him a monument of fame, and eclipses all rivalry. In a small building on the left, I was attracted by the solemn action of a steam-engine of a sixteen-horse or eighty-men power, and was ushered into a room, where it turned, by means of bands, four wheels fringed with fine saws, two of eighteen feet in diameter, and two of them nine feet. These circular saws were used for the purpose of separating veneers, and a more perfect operation was never performed. I beheld planks of mahogany and rose-wood sawed into veneers the sixteenth of an inch thick, with a precision and grandeur of action which really was sublime! The same power at once turned these tremendous saws, and drew their work upon them. A large sheet of veneer, nine or ten feet long by two feet broad, was thus separated in about ten minutes, so even, and so uniform, that it appeared more like a perfect work of Nature than one of human art! The force of these saws may be conceived when it is known that the large ones revolve sixty-five times in a minute; hence, 18 x 3,14 = 56,5 x 65 gives 3672 feet, or two-thirds of a mile in a minute; whereas, if a sawyer's tool give thirty strokes of three feet in a minute, it is but ninety feet, or only the fortieth part of the steady force of Mr. Brunel's saws!
In another building, I was shewn his manufactory of shoes, which, like the other, is full of ingenuity, and, in regard to subdivision of labour, brings this fabric on a level with the oft-admired manufactory of pins. Every step in it is effected by the most elegant and precise machinery; while as each operation is performed by one hand, so each shoe passes through twenty-five hands, who complete from the hide, as supplied by the currier, a hundred pair of strong and well-finished shoes per day. All the details are performed by ingenious applications of the mechanic powers, and all the parts are characterized by precision, uniformity, and accuracy. As each man performs but one step in the process, which implies no knowledge of what is done by those who go before or follow him, so the persons employed are not shoemakers, but wounded soldiers, who are able to learn their respective duties in a few hours. The contract at which these shoes are delivered to government is 6s. 6d. per pair, being at least 2s. less than what was paid previously for an unequal and cobbled article.
While, however, we admire these triumphs of mechanics, and congratulate society on the prospect of enjoying more luxuries at less cost of human labour, it ought not to be forgotten, that the general good in such cases is productive of great partial evils, against which a paternal government ought to provide. No race of workmen being proverbially more industrious than shoemakers, it is altogether unreasonable, that so large a portion of valuable members of society should be injured by improvements which have the ultimate effect of benefitting the whole.
The low price of labour deprives these classes of the power of accumulating any private fund, on which to subsist while they are learning new trades; it seems therefore incumbent on governments to make sufficient provision, from the public stock, for all cases of distress, which arise out of changes of this kind. If governments were benevolent, and vigilant in their benevolence, no members of the community would, under any circumstances, suffer from causes which are productive, or supposed to be productive, of general benefit. I qualify the position by the word supposed, because, owing to social monopolies, and to the advantages taken of poverty by the habits of wealth, the mass of the people are less benefited by the introduction of machinery than they ought to be. If a population have been drawn or driven from agriculture to manufactures, and the lands which maintained in humble independance the ancestors of the manufacturers are, in consequence, united into single farms, the manufacturers should not be left without resource, if their trade fails, or their labour is superseded by machinery. Against the ill effects of such changes, paternal governments should provide means of relief, so as to render them as little prejudicial to individuals as possible; and no transitions in the productive value of various labour, should be allowed to destroy the industrious part of the population, or force them to seek subsistence in foreign climes. It being the object of all machinery to save human labour, of course society at large ought to enjoy the benefit; and all who are in danger of suffering for a benefit to be enjoyed by the whole, should be liberally indemnified out of the common stock. Nothing could be more easy than for a board of commissioners or arbitrators to assess on the public such individual losses; and, in cases of great transitions, imposts should be so levied on monopoly as to restore the equilibrium of great branches of industry. For what but for such purposes of equalizing happiness are governments constituted and maintained?
I passed from the premises of Mr. Brunel, to the nearly adjoining ones of Mr. Hodgson, an intelligent maltster and distiller, and the proprietor of the elevated horizontal air-mill, which serves as a landmark for many miles round. But his mill, its elevated shaft, its vanes, and weather or wind boards, curious as they would have been on any other scite, lost their interest on premises once the residence of the illustrious Bolingbroke, and the resort of the philosophers of his day. In ascending the winding flights of its tottering galleries, I could not help wondering at the caprice of events which had converted the dwelling of Bolingbroke into a malting-house and a mill. This house, once sacred to philosophy and poetry, long sanctified by the residence of the noblest genius of his age, honoured by the frequent visits of Pope, and the birthplace of the immortal Essay on Man, is now appropriated to the lowest uses! The house of Bolingbroke become a windmill! The spot on which the Essay on Man was concocted and produced, converted into a distillery of pernicious spirits! Such are the lessons of time! Such are the means by which an eternal agency sets at nought the ephemeral importance of man! But yesterday, this spot was the resort, the hope, and the seat of enjoyment of Bolingbroke, Pope, Swift, Arbuthnot, Thomson, Mallet, and all the contemporary genius of England—yet a few whirls of the earth round the sun, the change of a figure in the date of the year, and the groupe have vanished; while in their place I behold hogs and horses, malt-bags and barrels, stills and machinery!
Alas, said I, to the occupier, and have these things become the representatives of more human genius than England may ever witness on one spot again—have you thus satirized the transitory fate of humanity,—do you thus become a party with the bigotted enemies of that philosophy which was personified in a Bolingbroke and a Pope? No, he rejoined, I love the name and character of Bolingbroke, and I preserve the house as well as I can with religious veneration; I often smoke my pipe in Mr. Pope's parlour, and think of him with due respect as I walk the part of the terrace opposite his room. He then conducted me to this interesting parlour, which is of brown polished oak, with a grate and ornaments of the age of George the First; and before its window stood the portion of the terrace upon which the malt-house had not encroached, with the Thames moving majestically under its wall. I was on holy ground!—I did not take off my shoes—but I doubtless felt what pilgrims feel as they approach the temples of Jerusalem, Mecca, or Jaggernaut! Of all poems, and of all codes of wisdom, I admire the Essay on Man, and its doctrines, the most; and in this room, I exclaimed, it was probably planned, discussed, and written!
Mr. Hodgson assured me, this had always been called "Pope's room," and he had no doubt it was the apartment usually occupied by that great poet, in his visits to his friend Bolingbroke. Other parts of the original house remain, and are occupied and kept in good order. He told me, however, that this is but a wing of the mansion, which extended in Lord Bolingbroke's time to the church-yard, and is now appropriated to the malting-house and its warehouses.
The church itself is a new and elegant structure, but chiefly interesting to me, as containing the vault of the St. John family, in which lies the great Lord, at whose elegant monument, by Roubilliac, I lingered some minutes.
On inquiring for an ancient inhabitant of Battersea, I was introduced to a Mrs. Gilliard, a pleasant and intelligent woman, who told me, she well remembered Lord Bolingbroke; that he used to ride out every day in his chariot, and had a black patch on his cheek, with a large wart over his eye-brows. She was then but a girl, but she was taught to look upon him with veneration as a great man. As, however, he spent little in the place, and gave little away, he was not much regarded by the people of Battersea. I mentioned to her the names of several of his contemporaries, but she recollected none, except that of Mallet, who, she said, she had often seen walking about in the village, while he was visiting at Bolingbroke House. The unassuming dwelling of this gentlewoman affords another proof of the scattered and unrecorded wealth of Britain, in works of superior art. I found in her retired parlour, a fine historical picture, by Vandyke, for which she said she had been offered 500l. but which she refused to part with, not less from a spirit of independence, than from a tasteful estimate of the beauties of the picture.
It was in the warm alluvial plain adjoining this village, the very swamp into which the Britons retreated before Caesar, that the first asparagus was cultivated in England. I could learn no particulars of this circumstance, but such vast quantities are still grown here, that one gardener has fifty acres engaged in the production of this vegetable, and there are above two hundred acres of it within a mile of Battersea church.
Proceeding onward between some ancient walls which bound the grounds of various market gardeners, I was told that here resided the father of Queen Anne Boleyn; but I could not fix any thing with precision on the subject, though it appears from the monument of Queen Elizabeth, in Battersea church, that the Boleyns were related to the St. John's.
A manufacturer of pitch and turpentine politely shewed me over his works. I trembled as I passed among his combustible cauldrons, and not without cause, for the place had recently been burnt to the ground, and it experienced the same fate a second time, but a few weeks after my visit. May we not hope that the applicable powers of heated gas will enable such manufactories to be carried on without the inevitable recurrence of such conflagrations.
This walk brought me to a large distillery, which still bears the name of York House, and was a seat of the Archbishops of York, from the year 1480 to its alienation. Here resided Wolsey, as Archbishop of York—here Henry VIII. first saw Anne Boleyn—and here that scene took place which Shakespeare records in his play of Henry VIII; and which he described truly, because he wrote it for Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, within fifty years of the event, and must himself have known living witnesses of its verity. Hence it becomes more than probable, that Sir Thomas Boleyn actually resided in the vicinity, and that his daughter was accidentally among the guests at that princely entertainment. I know it is contended, that this interview took place at York House, Whitehall; but Shakespeare makes the King come by Water; and York House, Battersea, was beyond all doubt a residence of Wolsey, and is provided with a creek from the Thames, for the evident purpose of facilitating intercourse by water. Besides, the owner informed me, that a few years since he had pulled down a superb room, called "the ball-room," the pannels of which were curiously painted, and the divisions silvered. He also stated that the room had a dome and a richly ornamented ceiling, and that he once saw an ancient print, representing the first interview of Henry VIII. with Anne Boleyn, in which the room was portrayed exactly like the one that, in modernizing his house, he had found it necessary to destroy.
My polite host took me to his green-house, and shewed me a fine specimen of that wonder of the second degree of organized existence—an American aloe, about to put forth its blossoms. Its vigorous upright stem was twelve feet high, and its head promised a rich profusion of splendid flowers. It is indeed no fable, that this perennial plant grows about a hundred years (a few more or less,) before it blooms; and, after yielding its seed, the stem withers and dies! I could not avoid being struck with the lesson which this centenarian affords to the Pride of man, when, on asking its owner, how he knew that it was a hundred years old, he informed me that "it had been in his possession the half of his life," that is, the mighty period of five-and-twenty years! "That it had previously been the property of the Hon. Mrs. ——," whose name, in spite of her honour, is now as lost to fame as she herself is lost to that existence which gave rise to any self-importance! That he "had heard, that, before her time, it belonged to Lord ——," a name which I have also forgotten, because it was unnecessary to remember it, the common-place peer having also exhausted the measure of his days since our still-flourishing aloe was in its dawn! "Ah, Sir," said I, "so the aloe has seen out all those who vainly called it their property—They have been swept away, generation after generation, yet it still survives a living commentary on their utter insignificance; and it laughs at the proud assumption of those who called themselves its proprietors, but could not maintain a property in themselves! Just so the same creature of yesterday asserts his property in that ancient globe, which he is destined to enjoy but an hour; and he asserts, that all was made for him, though in another hour he leaves all and becomes again, as to the planet which nurtured him, the nonentity of yesterday.
Pride, the bane of man—I exclaimed, as I passed the gate—what are its claims? Does it arise from fine clothing?—let it be remembered that every part has been stolen from the lowest of Nature's works—that the finest glitter is but a modification of the very surface—and that the garments which this year deck beauty and rank, will in the next be rotting on the dunghill! Does Pride feed on the records of ancestry?—let it visit the family tomb, and examine the bones and dust of that ancestry on which it founds its self-importance! Is Pride derived from titles of distinction?—let it inquire who conferred them—for what—and by what intrigues—and let it be considered, that titles or names confer no inherent quality, and do not alter the nature of any thing to which they are applied! Does an inexperienced girl take a lesson of Pride from her looking-glass?—she may be cured of her foible, by conceiving 10 to be added to the date of the year, or by looking on those ten years older than herself! Is it an office of power which serves as the basis of a lofty and insulting Pride?—let him who fills it remember that he is but the puppet of knaves, or fools; and at best but a mere servant of the public! Does wealth intoxicate the weakness of man?—let it never be forgotten that the possession is distinct from the possessor, and that the most contemptible of the human race have been the accumulators of wealth! Does the name of wisdom, puff up any of its professors?—of such it may truly be said, that their wisdom is foolishness—for none truly wise ever felt, in the researches of man, any ground of arrogance, while pursuits of philosophy serve only to teach humility!—But to what purpose tend such observations? Every man is his own microcosm, and his case, in his own view, is that of no other man! Pride will always find food in self-love, which in spite of exhortations, it will devour with ravenous appetite! If men were immortal, how intolerable would be existence from the arrogance and perpetuity of Pride! While this passion infects and misleads the governors of the world, the only consolation in looking on weak princes, wicked statesmen, unfeeling lawyers, and military butchers, is that, in the course of nature, Death will soon relieve the world from the pest of their influence! And there are few men who would, not prefer death as their own fate, and who would not hail death as a common blessing, rather than live an eternity under the dominion of the weak, the crafty, or the cruel Proud!
The road from York House towards Wandsworth, lay across a Plain of unenclosed fields, which, before the Thames had carved out the boundaries of its course, was, I have no doubt, generally covered with its waters. After the ocean left the land, and the hills became the depositaries of the clouds, how many ages must have elapsed before the beds of rivers were circumscribed as we now see them in England. The water always followed the lowest level, but, being of different quantities at different seasons, vegetation would flourish on the sides occasionally covered, and in time would generate banks; while the stream itself, by carrying off the argillaceous bottom, would add to the depth—the two combined causes producing all the phenomena of bounded rivers. The Thames, after heavy rains, or thaws of snow, still overflows its banks, thereby adding to the vegetable productions of its meadows, which, if not consumed, or carried away by man, would, long ere this, have fixed unalterably the limits of its course. The effect of these inundations in our days, or in past ages, has been to render its banks the fertile scite of all those fine garden-grounds which supply the metropolis so abundantly with fruits and vegetables.
 It is difficult to assign limits to the gradual effects of the circuit of the waters by evaporation and rain on the creation of land, from the decay of vegetable organizations. All the rain which falls on such a country as England, from two to three feet deep per annum, tends to raise the surface of the soil with the substances generated by it, which we call solids. How small a portion reaches the rivulets, and how little returns to the sea! The consideration seems at least to justify the notion, that the waters desiccate in spite of the encroachments of currents, and that all things have proceeded from the silent agency of water.
Some large Distilleries, on the banks of the river, reminded me of the bad policy of governments, which, sacrificing the end to the means, that is, the health and morals of the people to purposes of revenue, tolerates and even encourages manufactories so pernicious. I am aware I may be answered, that the working classes love this poison, and must be gratified; and that in 1813 the duty on British spirits produced L1,636,504. But I reply, first, that it is obligatory on good governments to protect the people against the effects of their vices; and second, that, if the people were not indulged in the ruinous habit of gin-drinking, and destroyed by it in body and mind, they would be able to pay a greater sum to the revenue from productions of a salutary nature. Such are the pernicious effects of drunkenness, and the numerous miseries created by drinking fermented and spirituous liquors, that I have often been tempted to consider it as an atonement for the impostures of Mahomet, that he so forcibly prohibited the practice, and so far succeeded, that a rigid forbearance is observed by his followers, and a Musselman rendered beastly, vicious, and diseased, by habits of drunkenness is never seen. The doctrines of the New Testament and the example of the Founder of our religion inculcate an equal degree of abstemiousness, yet how contrary are the practices of Christians! There seems indeed, in regard to this vice, to be no middle course. Spirituous, and perhaps also fermented, liquors, will be abused, or they must be wholly prohibited; because the stimulus which they create at one time, is sought at another, and the oftener it is repeated, the oftener it is desired and required; till at length it becomes necessary to the sense of well-being, or apparently essential to the power of sustaining the fatigue of life.
In the middle of these fields I passed a handsome house, which appeared to have been empty for a considerable time. On enquiring the cause of a young woman, who passed at the moment; she told me, with an artless countenance, that "it was haunted." I smiled, and asked how she knew it. "Ah, Sir," said she, "its nothing to laugh at—every body here-abouts knows it well enough—such strange noises are heard in it, and such lights flit about it at midnight."—Have you seen them? "No, Sir, but I knows those that have, and I'm sure its true." Seeing a labouring man at a distance, I enquired what he knew of the haunted house, when he told me, with a face full of faith, that "he knew gentlefolks laughed at such things, but seeing was believing—that, passing the house one night, he was quite sartain he had seen a light in one of the rooms, and had heard groans—-that he got home as well as he could, but all the world should not induce him to pass the house again at that time of the night." "And others," said I, "have perhaps seen the the same?"—"Aye, by goles, have they," exclaimed the fellow with terror in his countenance.—I then told him, I would with pleasure sit up in the house to see these ghosts—"Rather you than I, Sir," said he.—"Nay, nay," said I, "I dare say now for five shillings you would sit up with me!" "Naugh, dang me if I would, nor for the best five pounds in the world, much as I wants money! I don't fear man, but I am naugh match for the devil!—I believes in God, and does nobody any harm; and therefore don't think he'd let the old-one hurt me: but some main wicked ones lived, as I've hard, in that there house, so I'll have naught to do with it; and dang me if any of 'em shall catch me in it after night."
The poor fellow uttered these sentiments with such earnestness, that my risible emotions were converted into pity. I forebore, however, to argue the point with him, for many instances of superstition equally gross had long convinced me that the untaught and half-taught of my countrymen are, in this respect, little superior to the savage tribes, whom we pity, in Tartary, Africa, and America: yet in this instance the man's inference was a consequence of his premises, and his error in these it might have been deemed heretical to expose.
The nursery becomes the means of fixing similar impressions in the families of the most enlightened, and the unformed minds of children propagate in public schools the stories of their nurses. The lowest superstition pervades therefore all ranks, even of a population so comparatively enlightened as that of England; and, being imbibed in infancy and confirmed, through the entire period of youth, no impressions are more strong, or more universally operative. The poet and the priest either encourage the feeling, or do not take any pains to remove it. The agency of spirits and abstract principles, is countenanced by some of the records of religion, and by philosophers and physicians in their reasonings about occult causes, sympathies, coincidencies, and destinies. It is urged in vain, that ghosts and supernatural effects are never seen, except by the weakest or most ignorant of mankind, in ages or states of society when the people might be made to believe any thing; or at times so distant, or places so remote, that the narrators run no risk of detection or exposure. The love of the marvellous, the force of early impressions, the craft of many persons, and the folly of others, will however occasion every village to have its haunted house for ages to come, in spite of the press, and of those discoveries of philosophy which are every day narrowing the sphere of miracles and prodigies.
In considering this subject with the attention that is due to it, it has appeared to me that all the stories of ghosts and super, or, un-natural appearances, may be referred to some of the following causes:
1. To the augmentation produced by fear in any effect on the senses—thus the ear of a terrified man will convert the smallest noise into the report of thunder, or his eye will change the stump of a tree into a monster twenty feet high. As the senses are furnished for protection, their irritability, under the impression of fear, is part of their economy, as the means of preserving our being; but it is absurd to refer back the effects thus augmented, to external causes which might be capable of producing the augmentation. To such an error of the senses and of reasoning, is, however, to be referred half the ghosts and supernaturals of which we hear in village ale-houses, in nurseries and schools.
2. To diseased organs of sensation; as an inflamed eye producing the effect of flashes of light in the dark, or fulness of blood producing a ringing or singing in the ears. Sometimes diseases of the visual organs are accompanied by hallucinations of mind; and persons ill in fevers often see successions of figures and objects flit before their eyes till the disease has been removed. The workings of conscience or nervous affections will also produce diseases of the senses, and such hallucinations of mind as to occasion a person to fancy he sees another, or to be haunted by him. But there is nothing supernatural in all this; it is sometimes a local disease, sometimes an effect of fever, sometimes a nervous affection, and sometimes partial insanity.
3. To natural causes not understood by the parties. Thus, anciently the northern lights were mistaken for armies fighting; meteors and comets for flaming swords, portending destruction or pestilence; the electrified points of swords to the favour of heaven; the motions of the planets to attractive effluvia; and all the effects of the comixture of the gases to benign or diabolical agency, as they happened to produce on the parties good or evil. So in the like manner old houses are generally said to be haunted, owing to the noises which arise from the cracking and yielding of their walls and timbers, and from the protection and easy passage which in the course of time they afford to rats, mice, weasels, &c. whose activity in the night-time affords the foundation of numerous apprehensions and fancies of the credulous.
4. To spontaneous combustions or detonations, which produce occasional lights and noises, or, under unchanged circumstances, recurring lights and noises, chiefly claiming attention in the night. Thus houses shut up and unaired are apt, from the putrefaction of animal and vegetable matter, to generate hydrogen gas, the accidental combustion of which by contact with phosphoric matter, naturally generated in the same situation, will produce those effects of lights and noises heard in empty houses. So Church-yards, Churches in which the dead are buried, Cemeteries, and Ruins of old buildings, must frequently give out large quantities of these gases; and consequently, from exactly similar causes, they are likely to produce the very effects which we witness in the will-o'-the-wisp, or in hydrogen gas when inflamed during calm weather in marshy situations.
5. To the prevailing belief that effects, which cannot readily be accounted for, or which are caused by the contact of the invisible fluids or media always in action in the great laboratory of nature, are produced by the agency of spirits or demons; which belief, concurring with the unknown causes of the effects, and affording a ready solution of difficulties, prevents further inquiry, silences reasoning, and tends in consequence to sustain the prevailing errors and superstitions.
Such are the general causes of ghosts, spirits, charms, miracles, and supernatural appearances. They all arise either from hallucinations of the mind or senses; from the mutual action of the natural, though invisible, powers of gaseous and ethereal fluids; from the delusions of ignorance, implicit faith, or the absence of all reasoning.
While occupied in these speculations, I arrived at the entrance of the populous, industrious, and opulent village of Wandsworth. A reader in the highlands of Scotland, in the mountains of Wales, or the wilds of Connaught, will startle when he hears of a village containing 5,644 inhabitants, and 2,020 houses, in which 620 families are returned as engaged in trade and manufactures. Yet, such are the overgrown villages round our overgrown metropolis. Even in this vicinity, Chelsea contains 18,262 inhabitants; Fulham 5,903; Clapham 5,083; Hammersmith 7,393; Kensington 10,886; Brentford, New and Old, 7,094; and Richmond 5,219. This village of Wandsworth, in truth, is of the size of most second-rate towns in distant counties, its main street, of compact and well-built houses, being half a mile in length, with several collateral ones a quarter of a mile. It also contains, or has in its vicinity, many considerable manufactories, which flourished exceedingly before the silly vanity of ambition and military parade led a nation of merchants to endeavour to dictate to their foreign customers, and forced them to subsist without their commodities! The manufactories of Wandsworth are created or greatly aided by the pure stream of the Wandle, and by the Surry iron rail-way, which runs from Croydon to a spacious and busy wharf, on the Thames at this place. They consist of dyers, calico-printers, oil-mills, iron-founderies, vinegar-works, breweries, and distilleries. I found leisure to inspect the two or three which were employed; and I felt renewed delight on witnessing at this place the economy of horse-labour on the iron rail-way. Yet a heavy sigh escaped me, as I thought of the inconceivable millions which have been spent about Malta, four or five of which might have been the means of extending double lines of iron rail-ways from London to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Holyhead, Milford, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Dover and Portsmouth! A reward of a single thousand would have supplied coaches, and other vehicles of various degrees of speed, with the best tackle for readily turning out; and we might, ere this, have witnessed our mail coaches running at the rate of ten miles an hour, drawn by a single horse, or impelled fifteen miles by Blenkinsop's steam-engine! Such would have been a legitimate motive for overstepping the income of a nation, and the completion of so great and useful a work would have afforded rational grounds for public triumph in general jubilees!
Wandsworth having been the once-famed scene of those humorous popular elections of a mayor, or member for Garrat; and the subject serving to illustrate the manners of the times, and abounding in original features of character, I collected among some of its elder inhabitants a variety of amusing facts and documents, relative to the eccentric candidates and their elections.
Southward of Wandsworth, a road extends nearly two miles to the village of Lower Tooting, and nearly midway are a few houses, or hamlet, by the side of a small common, called Garrat, from which the road itself is called Garrat Lane. Various encroachments on this common led to an association of the neighbours about three-score years since, when they chose a president, or mayor, to protect their rights; and the time of their first election, being the period of a new parliament, it was agreed that the mayor should be re-chosen after every general election. Some facetious members of the club gave, in a few years, local notoriety to this election; and, when party spirit ran high in the days of Wilkes and Liberty, it was easy to create an appetite for a burlesque election among the lower orders of the metropolis. The publicans at Wandsworth, Tooting, Battersea, Clapham, and Vauxhall, made a purse to give it character; and Mr. Foote rendered its interest universal, by calling one of his inimitable farces, "the Mayor of Garrat." I have indeed been told, that Foote, Garrick, and Wilkes, wrote some of the candidates' addresses, for the purpose of instructing the people in the corruptions which attend elections to the legislature, and of producing those reforms by means of ridicule and shame, which are vainly expected from solemn appeals of argument and patriotism.
Not being able to find the members for Garrat in Beatson's Political Index, or in any of the Court Calendars, I am obliged to depend on tradition for information in regard to the early history of this famous borough. The first mayor of whom I could hear was called Sir John Harper. He filled the seat during two parliaments, and was, it appears, a man of wit, for, on a dead cat being thrown at him on the hustings, and a bye-stander exclaiming that it stunk worse than a fox, Sir John vociferated, "that's no wonder, for you see it's a poll-cat." This noted baronet was, in the metropolis, a retailer of brick-dust; and, his Garrat honours being supposed to be a means of improving his trade and the condition of his ass, many characters in similar occupations were led to aspire to the same distinctions.
He was succeeded by Sir Jeffrey Dunstan, who was returned for three parliaments, and was the most popular candidate that ever appeared on the Garrat hustings. His occupation was that of buying OLD WIGS, once an article of trade like that in old clothes, but become obsolete since the full-bottomed and full-dressed wigs of both sexes went out of fashion. Sir Jeffrey usually carried his wig-bag over his shoulder, and, to avoid the charge of vagrancy, vociferated, as he passed along the streets, "old wigs;" but, having a person like Esop, and a countenance and manner marked by irresistible humour, he never appeared without a train of boys, and curious persons, whom he entertained by his sallies of wit, shrewd sayings, and smart repartees; and from whom, without begging, he collected sufficient to maintain his dignity of mayor and knight. He was no respecter of persons, and was so severe in his jokes on the corruptions and compromises of power, that, under the iron regime of Pitt and Dundas, when freedom was treason, and truth was blasphemy, this political punch, or street-jester, was prosecuted for using what were then called seditious expressions; and, as a caricature on the times, which ought never to be forgotten, he was in 1793 tried, convicted, and imprisoned! In consequence of this affair, and some charges of dishonesty, he lost his popularity, and, at the general election for 1796, was ousted by Sir Harry Dimsdale, muffin-seller, a man as much deformed as himself. Sir Jeffrey could not long survive his fall; but, in death as in life, he proved a satire on the vices of the proud, for in 1797 he died, like Alexander the Great, and many other heroes renowned in the historic page—of suffocation from excessive drinking!
Sir Harry Dimsdale dying also before the next general election, and no candidate starting of sufficient originality of character, and, what was still more fatal, the victuallers having failed to raise a PUBLIC PURSE, which was as stimulating a bait to the independent candidates for Garrat, as it is to the independent candidates for a certain assembly; the borough of Garrat has since remained vacant, and the populace have been without a professed political buffoon.
None but those who have seen a London mob on any great holiday can form a just idea of these elections. On several occasions, a hundred thousand persons, half of them in carts, in hackney-coaches, and on horse and ass-back, covered the various roads from London, and choaked up all the approaches to the place of election. At the two last elections, I was told, that the road within a mile of Wandsworth was so blocked up by vehicles, that none could move backward or forward during many hours; and that the candidates, dressed like chimney-sweepers on May-day, or in the mock-fashion of the period, were brought to the hustings in the carriages of peers, drawn by six horses, the owners themselves condescending to become their drivers!
Whether the effect of inculcating useful principles by means of these mock politicians, was compensated by the ridicule thrown on the sacred exertions of patriotism, may perhaps be doubted. These elections served, however, to keep alive the feelings of the people on public questions, and tended to increase those discussions and enquiries which support the arterial circulation of the body politic. The deadly plague of despotism, and the equally fatal disease of ministerial corruption, find victims of their influence only among people who are devoid of moral energies and public spirit, and whose stagnant and torpid condition generates morbid dispositions that invite, rather than resist, the attacks of any public enemy.
I am a friend, therefore, on principle, to the bustle and tumult of popular elections. They are the flint and steel, the animating friction, the galvanic energy, of society. Virtue alone can face them. Vice dreads them as it dreads the light. With uncourtly hands, they tear the mask from Hypocrisy; they arraign at the bar of public opinion, political Culprits, amenable to no other tribunal; and they probe to the quick, the seared consciences of Peculators and Oppressors. If the sycophants of courts, and the sophistical apologists of arbitrary power, should craftily urge that the people are sometimes misled by fraud and falsehood, and therefore unable to distinguish between patriots and plunderers, we should not forget that occasional errors are misfortunes which do not abrogate general rights; and that popular elections are never adopted in well-trained despotisms, as part of the machinery of the state, calculated to subjugate the bodies and minds of their slaves. Do we hear of the suffrages of the people among the Turks, the Russians, the Moors, or the Algerines? Rather, as the means of eliciting the public voice, and of exciting enquiry, are they not of all despotisms, the bane; and of all usurpations and abuses of power, the terror; while, by generating that public spirit which is the animating soul of freedom, they serve as tests of dauntless public virtue, afford the last and the best hope of patriotism, and constitute national schools, in which impressive Lessons of Liberty are taught to the whole people.