THE DAYS BEFORE YESTERDAY
Lord Frederick Hamilton
The Public has given so kindly a reception to The Varnished Pomps of Yesterday (a reception which took its author wholly by surprise), that I have extracted some further reminiscences from the lumber-room of recollections. Those who expect startling revelations, or stale whiffs of forgotten scandals in these pages, will, I fear, be disappointed, for the book contains neither. It is merely a record of everyday events, covering different ground to those recounted in the former book, which may, or may not, prove of interest. I must tender my apologies for the insistent recurrence of the first person singular; in a book of this description this is difficult to avoid.
Early days—The passage of many terrors—Crocodiles, grizzlies and hunchbacks—An adventurous journey and its reward—The famous spring in South Audley Street—Climbing chimney-sweeps—The story of Mrs. Montagu's son—The sweeps' carnival—Disraeli—Lord John Russell—A child's ideas about the Whigs—The Earl of Aberdeen—"Old Brown Bread"—Sir Edwin Landseer, a great family friend—A live lion at a tea-party—Landseer as an artist—Some of his vagaries—His frescoes at Ardverikie—His latter days—A devoted friend—His last Academy picture
The "swells" of the "sixties"—Old Lord Claud Hamilton—My first presentation to Queen Victoria—Scandalous behaviour of a brother—Queen Victoria's letters—Her character and strong common sense—My mother's recollections of George III. and George IV.—Carlton House, and the Brighton Pavilion—Queen Alexandra—The Fairchild Family—Dr. Cumming and his church—A clerical Jazz—First visit to Paris—General de Flahault's account of Napoleon's campaign of 1812—Another curious link with the past—"Something French"—Attraction of Paris—Cinderella's glass slipper—A glimpse of Napoleon III.—The Rue de Rivoli—The Riviera in 1865—A novel Tricolour flag—Jenny Lind—The championship of the Mediterranean—My father's boat and crew—The race—The Abercorn wins the championship
A new departure—A Dublin hotel in the "sixties"—The Irish mail service—The wonderful old paddle mail-boats—The convivial waiters of the Munster—The Viceregal Lodge—Indians and pirates—The imagination of youth—A modest personal ambition—Death-warrants; imaginary and real—The Fenian outbreak of 1866-7—The Abergele railway accident—A Dublin Drawing-Room—Strictly private ceremonials—Some of the amenities of the Chapel Royal—An unbidden spectator of the State dinners—Irish wit—Judge Keogh—Father Healy—Happy Dublin knack of nomenclature—An unexpected honour and its cause—Incidents of the Fenian rising—Dr. Hatchell—A novel prescription—Visit of King Edward—Gorgeous ceremonial, but a chilly drive—An anecdote of Queen Alexandra
Chittenden's—A wonderful teacher—My personal experiences as a schoolmaster—My "boys in blue"—My unfortunate garments—A "brave Belge"—The model boy, and his name—A Spartan regime—"The Three Sundays"—Novel religious observances—Harrow—"John Smith of Harrow"—"Tommy"—Steele—"Tosher"—An ingenious punishment—John Farmer—His methods—The birth of a famous song—Harrow school songs—"Ducker"—The "Curse of Versatility"—Advancing old age—The race between three brothers—A family failing—My father's race at sixty-four—My own—A most acrimonious dispute at Rome—Harrow after fifty years
Mme. Ducros—A Southern French country town—"Tartarin de Tarascon"—His prototypes at Nyons—M. Sisteron the roysterer—The Southern French—An octogenarian pasteur—French industry—"Bone-shakers"—A wonderful "Cordon-bleu"—"Slop-basin"—French legal procedure—The bons-vivants—The merry French judges—La gaiete francaise—Delightful excursions—Some sleepy old towns—Oronge and Avignon—M. Thiers' ingenious cousin—Possibilities—French political situation in 1874—The Comte de Chambord—Some French characteristics—High intellectual level—Three days in a Trappist Monastery—Details of life there—The Arian heresy—Silkworm culture—Tendencies of French to complicate details—Some examples—Cicadas in London.
Brunswick—Its beauty—High level of culture—The Brunswick Theatre—Its excellence—Gas vs. Electricity—Primitive theatre toilets—Operatic stars in private life—Some operas unknown in London—Dramatic incidents in them—Levasseur's parody of "Robert"—Some curious details about operas—Two fiery old pan-Germans—Influence of the teaching profession on modern Germany—The "French and English Clubs"—A meeting of the "English Club" Some reflections about English reluctance to learn foreign tongues—Mental attitude of non-Prussians in 1875—Concerning various beers—A German sportsman—The silent, quinine-loving youth—The Harz Mountains—A "Kettle-drive" for hares—Dialects of German—The odious "Kaffee-Klatch"—Universal gossip—Hamburg's overpowering hospitality—Hamburg's attitude towards Britain—The city itself—Trip to British Heligoland—The island—Some peculiarities—Migrating birds—Sir Fitzhardinge Maxse—Lady Maxse—The Heligoland Theatre—Winter in Heligoland
Some London beauties of the "seventies"—Great ladies—The Victorian girl—Votaries of the Gaiety Theatre Two witty ladies—Two clever girls and mock-Shakespeare—The family who talked Johnsonian English—Old-fashioned tricks of pronunciation—Practical jokes—Lord Charles Beresford and the old Club-member—The shoeless legislator—Travellers' palms—The tree that spouted wine—Ceylon's spicy breezes—Some reflections—Decline of public interest in Parliament—Parliamentary giants—Gladstone, John Bright, and Chamberlain—Gladstone's last speech—His resignation—W.H. Smith—The Assistant Whips—Sir William Hart-Dyke—Weary hours at Westminster—A Pseudo-Ingoldsbean Lay
The Foreign Office—The new Private Secretary—A Cabinet key—Concerning theatricals—Some surnames which have passed into everyday use—Theatricals at Petrograd—A mock-opera—The family from Runcorn—An embarrassing predicament—Administering the oath—Secret Service—Popular errors—Legitimate employment of information—The Phoenix Park murders—I sanction an arrest—The innocent victim—The execution of the murderers of Alexander II.—The jarring military band—Black Magic—Sir Charles Wyke—Some of his experiences—The seance at the Pantheon—Sir Charles' experiments on myself—The Alchemists—The Elixir of Life, and the Philosopher's Stone—Lucid directions for their manufacture—Glamis Castle and its inhabitants—The tuneful Lyon family—Mr. Gladstone at Glamis—He sings in the glees—The castle and its treasures—Recollections of Glamis
Canada—The beginnings of the C.P.R.—Attitude of British Columbia—The C.P.R. completed—Quebec—A swim at Niagara—Other mighty waterfalls—Ottawa and Rideau Hall—Effects of dry climate—Personal electricity—Every man his own dynamo—Attraction of Ottawa—The "roaring game"—Skating—An ice-palace—A ball on skates—Difficulties of translating the Bible into Eskimo—The building of the snow hut—The snow hut in use—Sir John Macdonald—Some personal traits—The Canadian Parliament buildings—Monsieur l'Orateur—A quaint oration—The "Pages' Parliament"—An all-night sitting—The "Arctic Cremorne"—A curious Lisbon custom—The Balkan "souvenir-hunters"—Personal inspection of Canadian convents—Some incidents—The unwelcome novice—The Montreal Carnival—The Ice-castle—The Skating Carnival—A stupendous toboggan slide—The pioneer of "ski" in Canada—The old-fashioned raquettes—A Canadian Spring—Wonders of the Dominion
Calcutta—Hooghly pilots—Government House—A Durbar—The sulky Rajah—The customary formalities—An ingenious interpreter—The sailing clippers in the Hooghly—Calcutta Cathedral—A succulent banquet—The mistaken Minister—The "Gordons"—Barrackpore—A Swiss Family Robinson aerial house—The child and the elephants—The merry midshipmen—Some of their escapades—A huge haul of fishes—Queen Victoria and Hindustani—The Hills—The Manipur outbreak—A riding tour—A wise old Anglo-Indian—Incidents—The fidelity of native servants—A novel printing-press—Lucknow—The loss of an illusion
Matters left untold—The results of improved communications—My father's journey to Naples—Modern stereotyped uniformity—Changes in customs—The faithful family retainer—Some details—Samuel Pepys' stupendous banquets—Persistence of idea—Ceremonial incense—Patriarchal family life—The barn dances—My father's habits—My mother—A son's tribute—Autumn days—Conclusion
THE DAYS BEFORE YESTERDAY
Early days—The passage of many terrors—Crocodiles, grizzlies and hunchbacks—An adventurous journey and its reward—The famous spring in South Audley Street—Climbing chimney-sweeps—The story of Mrs. Montagu's son—The sweeps' carnival—Disraeli—Lord John Russell—A child's ideas about the Whigs—The Earl of Aberdeen—"Old Brown Bread"—Sir Edwin Landseer, a great family friend—A live lion at a tea-party—Landseer as an artist—Some of his vagaries—His frescoes at Ardverikie—His latter days—A devoted friend—His last Academy picture.
I was born the thirteenth child of a family of fourteen, on the thirteenth day of the month, and I have for many years resided at No. 13 in a certain street in Westminster. In spite of the popular prejudice attached to this numeral, I am not conscious of having derived any particular ill-fortune from my accidental association with it.
Owing to my sequence in the family procession, I found myself on my entry into the world already equipped with seven sisters and four surviving brothers. I was also in the unusual position of being born an uncle, finding myself furnished with four ready-made nephews—the present Lord Durham, his two brothers, Mr. Frederick Lambton and Admiral-of-the-Fleet Sir Hedworth Meux, and the late Lord Lichfield.
Looking down the long vista of sixty years with eyes that have already lost their keen vision, the most vivid impression that remains of my early childhood is the nightly ordeal of the journey down "The Passage of Many Terrors" in our Irish home. It had been decreed that, as I had reached the mature age of six, I was quite old enough to come downstairs in the evening by myself without the escort of a maid, but no one seemed to realise what this entailed on the small boy immediately concerned. The house had evidently been built by some malevolent architect with the sole object of terrifying little boys. Never, surely, had such a prodigious length of twisting, winding passages and such a superfluity of staircases been crammed into one building, and as in the early "sixties" electric light had not been thought of, and there was no gas in the house, these endless passages were only sparingly lit with dim colza-oil lamps. From his nursery the little boy had to make his way alone through a passage and up some steps. These were brightly lit, and concealed no terrors. The staircase that had to be negotiated was also reassuringly bright, but at its base came the "Terrible Passage." It was interminably long, and only lit by an oil lamp at its far end. Almost at once a long corridor running at right angles to the main one, and plunged in total darkness, had to be crossed. This was an awful place, for under a marble slab in its dim recesses a stuffed crocodile reposed. Of course in the daytime the crocodile PRETENDED to be very dead, but every one knew that as soon as it grew dark, the crocodile came to life again, and padded noiselessly about the passage on its scaly paws seeking for its prey, with its great cruel jaws snapping, its fierce teeth gleaming, and its horny tail lashing savagely from side to side. It was also a matter of common knowledge that the favourite article of diet of crocodiles was a little boy with bare legs in a white suit. Even should one be fortunate enough to escape the crocodile's jaws, there were countless other terrors awaiting the traveller down this awe-inspiring passage. A little farther on there was a dark lobby, with cupboards surrounding it. Any one examining these cupboards by daylight would have found that they contained innocuous cricket-bats and stumps, croquet-mallets and balls, and sets of bowls. But as soon as the shades of night fell, these harmless sporting accessories were changed by some mysterious and malign agency into grizzly bears, and grizzly bears are notoriously the fiercest of their species. It was advisable to walk very quickly, but quietly, past the lair of the grizzlies, for they would have gobbled up a little boy in one second. Immediately after the bears' den came the culminating terror of all—the haunt of the wicked little hunchbacks. These malignant little beings inhabited an arched and recessed cross-passage. It was their horrible habit to creep noiselessly behind their victims, tip...tip...tip-toeing silently but swiftly behind their prey, and then ... with a sudden spring they threw themselves on to little boys' backs, and getting their arms round their necks, they remorselessly throttled the life out of them. In the early "sixties" there was a perfect epidemic of so-called "garrotting" in London. Harmless citizens proceeding peaceably homeward through unfrequented streets or down suburban roads at night were suddenly seized from behind by nefarious hands, and found arms pressed under their chins against their windpipe, with a second hand drawing their heads back until they collapsed insensible, and could be despoiled leisurely of any valuables they might happen to have about them. Those familiar with John Leech's Punch Albums will recollect how many of his drawings turned on this outbreak of garrotting. The little boy had heard his elders talking about this garrotting, and had somehow mixed it up with a story about hunchbacks and the fascinating local tales about "the wee people," but the terror was a very real one for all that. The hunchbacks baffled, there only remained a dark archway to pass, but this archway led to the "Robbers' Passage." A peculiarly bloodthirsty gang of malefactors had their fastnesses along this passage, but the dread of being in the immediate neighbourhood of such a band of desperadoes was considerably modified by the increasing light, as the solitary oil-lamp of the passage was approached. Under the comforting beams of this lamp the little boy would pause until his heart began to thump less wildly after his deadly perils, and he would turn the handle of the door and walk into the great hall as demurely as though he had merely traversed an ordinary everyday passage in broad daylight. It was very reassuring to see the big hall blazing with light, with the logs roaring on the open hearth, and grown-ups writing, reading, and talking unconcernedly, as though unconscious of the awful dangers lurking within a few yards of them. In that friendly atmosphere, what with toys and picture-books, the fearful experiences of the "Passage of Many Terrors" soon faded away, and the return journey upstairs would be free from alarms, for Catherine, the nursery-maid, would come to fetch the little boy when his bedtime arrived.
Catherine was fat, freckled, and French. She was also of a very stolid disposition. She stumped unconcernedly along the "Passage of Terrors," and any reference to its hidden dangers of robbers, hunchbacks, bears, and crocodiles only provoked the remark, "Quel tas de betises!" In order to reassure the little boy, Catherine took him to view the stuffed crocodile reposing inertly under its marble slab. Of course, before a grown-up the crocodile would pretend to be dead and stuffed, but ... the little boy knew better. It occurred gleefully to him, too, that the plump French damsel might prove more satisfactory as a repast to a hungry saurian than a skinny little boy with thin legs. In the cheerful nursery, with its fragrant peat fire (we called it "turf"), the terrors of the evening were quickly forgotten, only to be renewed with tenfold activity next evening, as the moment for making the dreaded journey again approached.
The little boy had had the Pilgrim's Progress read to him on Sundays. He envied "Christian," who not only usually enjoyed the benefit of some reassuring companion, such as "Mr. Interpreter," or "Mr. Greatheart," to help him on his road, but had also been expressly told, "Keep in the midst of the path, and no harm shall come to thee." This was distinctly comforting, and Christian enjoyed another conspicuous advantage. All the lions he encountered in the course of his journey were chained up, and could not reach him provided he adhered to the Narrow Way. The little boy thought seriously of tying a rolled-up tablecloth to his back to represent Christian's pack; in his white suit, he might perhaps then pass for a pilgrim, and the strip of carpet down the centre of the passage would make an admirable Narrow Way, but it all depended on whether the crocodile, bears, and hunchbacks knew, and would observe the rules of the game. It was most improbable that the crocodile had ever had the Pilgrim's Progress read to him in his youth, and he might not understand that the carpet representing the Narrow Way was inviolable territory. Again, the bears might make their spring before they realised that, strictly speaking, they ought to consider themselves chained up. The ferocious little hunchbacks were clearly past praying for; nothing would give them a sense of the most elementary decency. On the whole, the safest plan seemed to be, on reaching the foot of the stairs, to keep an eye on the distant lamp and to run to it as fast as short legs and small feet could carry one. Once safe under its friendly beams, panting breath could be recovered, and the necessary stolid look assumed before entering the hall.
There was another voyage, rich in its promise of ultimate rewards, but so perilous that it would only be undertaken under escort. That was to the housekeeper's room through a maze of basement passages. On the road two fiercely-gleaming roaring pits of fire had to be encountered. Grown-ups said this was the furnace that heated the house, but the little boy had his own ideas on the subject. Every Sunday his nurse used to read to him out of a little devotional book, much in vogue in the "sixties," called The Peep of Day, a book with the most terrifying pictures. One Sunday evening, so it is said, the little boy's mother came into the nursery to find him listening in rapt attention to what his nurse was reading him.
"Emery is reading to me out of a good book," explained the small boy quite superfluously.
"And do you like it, dear?"
"Very much indeed."
"What is Emery reading to you about? Is it about Heaven?"
"No, it's about 'ell," gleefully responded the little boy, who had not yet found all his "h's."
Those glowing furnace-bars; those roaring flames ... there could be no doubt whatever about it. A hymn spoke of "Gates of Hell" ... of course they just called it the heating furnace to avoid frightening him. The little boy became acutely conscious of his misdeeds. He had taken ... no, stolen an apple from the nursery pantry and had eaten it. Against all orders he had played with the taps in the sink. The burden of his iniquities pressed heavily on him; remembering the encouraging warnings Mrs. Fairchild, of The Fairchild Family, gave her offspring as to their certain ultimate destiny when they happened to break any domestic rule, he simply dared not pass those fiery apertures alone. With his hand in that of his friend Joseph, the footman, it was quite another matter. Out of gratitude, he addressed Joseph as "Mr. Greatheart," but Joseph, probably unfamiliar with the Pilgrim's Progress, replied that his name was Smith.
The interminable labyrinth of passages threaded, the warm, comfortable housekeeper's room, with its red curtains, oak presses and a delicious smell of spice pervading it, was a real haven of rest. To this very day, nearly sixty years afterwards, it still looks just the same, and keeps its old fragrant spicy odour. Common politeness dictated a brief period of conversation, until Mrs. Pithers, the housekeeper, should take up her wicker key-basket and select a key (the second press on the left). From that inexhaustible treasure-house dates and figs would appear, also dried apricots and those little discs of crystallised apple-paste which, impaled upon straws, and coloured green, red and yellow, were in those days manufactured for the special delectation of greedy little boys. What a happy woman Mrs. Pithers must have been with such a prodigal wealth of delicious products always at her command! It was comforting, too, to converse with Mrs. Pithers, for though this intrepid woman was alarmed neither by bears, hunchbacks nor crocodiles, she was terribly frightened by what she termed "cows," and regulated her daily walks so as to avoid any portion of the park where cattle were grazing. Here the little boy experienced a delightful sense of masculine superiority. He was not the least afraid of cattle, or of other things in daylight and the open air; of course at night in dark passages infested with bears and little hunchbacks ... Well, it was obviously different. And yet that woman who was afraid of "cows" could walk without a tremor, or a little shiver down the spine, past the very "Gates of Hell," where they roared and blazed in the dark passage.
Our English home had brightly-lit passages, and was consequently practically free from bears and robbers. Still, we all preferred the Ulster home in spite of its obvious perils. Here were a chain of lakes, wide, silvery expanses of gleaming water reflecting the woods and hills. Here were great tracts of woodlands where countless little burns chattered and tinkled in their rocky beds as they hurried down to the lakes, laughing as they tumbled in miniature cascades over rocky ledges into swirling pools, in their mad haste to reach the placid waters below. Here were purple heather-clad hills, with their bigger brethren rising mistily blue in the distance, and great wine-coloured tracts of bog (we called them "flows") interspersed with glistening bands of water, where the turf had been cut which hung over the village in a thin haze of fragrant blue smoke.
The woods in the English place were beautifully kept, but they were uninteresting, for there were no rocks or great stones in them. An English brook was a dull, prosaic, lifeless stream, rolling its clay-stained waters stolidly along, with never a dimple of laughter on its surface, or a joyous little gurgle of surprise at finding that it was suddenly called upon to take a headlong leap of ten feet. The English brooks were so silent, too, compared to our noisy Ulster burns, whose short lives were one clamorous turmoil of protest against the many obstacles with which nature had barred their progress to the sea; here swirling over a miniature crag, there babbling noisily among a labyrinth of stones. They ultimately became merged in a foaming, roaring salmon river, expanding into amber-coloured pools, or breaking into white rapids; a river which retained to the last its lordly independence and reached the sea still free, refusing to be harnessed or confined by man. Our English brook, after its uneventful childhood, made its stolid matter-of-fact way into an equally dull little river which crawled inertly along to its destiny somewhere down by the docks. I know so many people whose whole lives are like that of that particular English brook.
We lived then in London at Chesterfield House, South Audley Street, which covered three times the amount of ground it does at present, for at the back it had a very large garden, on which Chesterfield Gardens are now built. In addition to this it had two wings at right angles to it, one now occupied by Lord Leconfield's house, the other by Nos. 1 and 2, South Audley Street. The left-hand wing was used as our stables and contained a well which enjoyed an immense local reputation in Mayfair. Never was such drinking-water! My father allowed any one in the neighbourhood to fetch their drinking-water from our well, and one of my earliest recollections is watching the long daily procession of men-servants in the curious yellow-jean jackets of the "sixties," each with two large cans in his hands, fetching the day's supply of our matchless water. No inhabitants of Curzon Street, Great Stanhope Street, or South Audley Street would dream of touching any water but that from the famous Chesterfield House spring. In 1867 there was a serious outbreak of Asiatic cholera in London, and my father determined to have the water of the celebrated spring analysed. There were loud protests at this:—what, analyse the finest drinking-water in England! My father, however, persisted, and the result of the analysis was that our incomparable drinking-water was found to contain thirty per cent. of organic matter. The analyst reported that fifteen per cent. of the water must be pure sewage. My father had the spring sealed and bricked up at once, but it is a marvel that we had not poisoned every single inhabitant of the Mayfair district years before.
In the early "sixties" the barbarous practice of sending wretched little "climbing boys" up chimneys to sweep them still prevailed. In common with most other children of that day, I was perfectly terrified when the chimney-sweep arrived with his attendant coal-black imps, for the usual threat of foolish nurses to their charges when they proved refractory was, "If you are not good I shall give you to the sweep, and then you will have to climb up the chimney." When the dust-sheets laid on the floors announced the advent of the sweeps, I used, if possible, to hide until they had left the house. I cannot understand how public opinion tolerated for so long the abominable cruelty of forcing little boys to clamber up flues. These unhappy brats were made to creep into the chimneys from the grates, and then to wriggle their way up by digging their toes into the interstices of the bricks, and by working their elbows and knees alternately; stifled in the pitch-darkness of the narrow flue by foul air, suffocated by the showers of soot that fell on them, perhaps losing their way in the black maze of chimneys, and liable at any moment, should they lose their footing, to come crashing down twenty feet, either to be killed outright in the dark or to lie with a broken limb until they were extricated—should, indeed, it be possible to rescue them at all. These unfortunate children, too, were certain to get abrasions on their bare feet and on their elbows and knees from the rough edges of the bricks. The soot working into these abrasions gave them a peculiar form of sore. Think of the terrible brutality to which a nervous child must have been subjected before he could be induced to undertake so hateful a journey for the first time. Should the boy hesitate to ascend, many of the master-sweeps had no compunction in giving him what was termed a "tickler"—that is, in lighting some straw in the grate below him. The poor little urchin had perforce to scramble up his chimney then, to avoid being roasted alive.
All honour to the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, the philanthropist, who as Lord Ashley never rested in the House of Commons until he got a measure placed on the Statute Book making the employment of climbing-boys illegal.
It will be remembered that little Tom, the hero of Charles Kingsley's delightful Water-Babies, was a climbing-sweep. In spite of all my care, I occasionally met some of these little fellows in the passages, inky-black with soot from the soles of their bare feet to the crowns of their heads, except for the whites of their eyes. They could not have been above eight or nine years old. I looked on them as awful warnings, for of course they would not have occupied their present position had they not been little boys who had habitually disobeyed the orders of their nurses.
Even the wretched little climbing-boys had their gala-day on the 1st of May, when they had a holiday and a feast under the terms of Mrs. Montagu's will.
The story of Mrs. Montagu is well known. The large house standing in a garden at the corner of Portman Square and Gloucester Place, now owned by Lord Portman, was built for Mrs. Montagu by James Wyatt at the end of the eighteenth century, and the adjoining Montagu Street and Montagu Square derive their names from her. Somehow Mrs. Montagu's only son got kidnapped, and all attempts to recover the child failed. Time went on, and he was regarded as dead. On a certain 1st of May the sweeps arrived to clean Mrs. Montagu's chimneys, and a climbing-boy was sent up to his horrible task. Like Tom in the Water-Babies, he lost his way in the network of flues and emerged in a different room to the one he had started from. Something in the aspect of the room struck a half-familiar, half-forgotten chord in his brain. He turned the handle of the door of the next room and found a lady seated there. Then he remembered. Filthy and soot-stained as he was, the little sweep flung himself into the arms of the beautiful lady with a cry of "Mother!" Mrs. Montagu had found her lost son.
In gratitude for the recovery of her son, Mrs. Montagu entertained every climbing-boy in London at dinner on the anniversary of her son's return, and arranged that they should all have a holiday on that day. At her death she left a legacy to continue the treat.
Such, at least, is the story as I have always heard it.
At the Sweeps' Carnival, there was always a grown-up man figuring as "Jack-in-the-green." Encased in an immense frame of wicker-work covered with laurels and artificial flowers, from the midst of which his face and arms protruded with a comical effect, "Jack-in-the-green" capered slowly about in the midst of the street, surrounded by some twenty little climbing-boys, who danced joyously round him with black faces, their soot-stained clothes decorated with tags of bright ribbon, and making a deafening clamour with their dustpans and brushes as they sang some popular ditty. They then collected money from the passers-by, making usually quite a good haul. There were dozens of these "Jacks-in-the-green" to be seen then on Mayday in the London streets, each one with his attendant band of little black familiars. I summoned up enough courage once to ask a small inky-black urchin whether he had disobeyed his nurse very often in order to be condemned to sweep chimneys. He gaped at me uncomprehendingly, with a grin; but being a cheerful little soul, assured me that, on the whole, he rather enjoyed climbing up chimneys.
It was my father and mother's custom in London to receive any of their friends at luncheon without a formal invitation, and a constant procession of people availed themselves of this privilege. At six years of age I was promoted to lunch in the dining-room with my parents, and I always kept my ears open. I had then one brother in the House of Commons, and we being a politically inclined family, most of the notabilities of the Tory party put in occasional appearances at Chesterfield House at luncheon-time. There was Mr. Disraeli, for whom my father had an immense admiration, although he had not yet occupied the post of Prime Minister. Mr. Disraeli's curiously impassive face, with its entire absence of colouring, rather frightened me. It looked like a mask. He had, too, a most singular voice, with a very impressive style of utterance. After 1868, by which time my three elder brothers were all in the House of Commons, and Disraeli himself was Prime Minister, he was a more frequent visitor at our house.
In 1865 my uncle, Lord John Russell, my mother's brother, was Prime Minister. My uncle, who had been born as far back as 1792, was a very tiny man, who always wore one of the old-fashioned, high black-satin stocks right up to his chin. I liked him, for he was always full of fun and small jokes, but in that rigorously Tory household he was looked on with scant favour. It was his second term of office as Prime Minister, for he had been First Lord of the Treasury from 1846 to 1852; he had also sat in the House of Commons for forty-seven years. My father was rather inclined to ridicule his brother-in-law's small stature, and absolutely detested his political opinions, declaring that he united all the ineradicable faults of the Whigs in his diminutive person. Listening, as a child will do, to the conversation of his elders, I derived the most grotesquely false ideas as to the Whigs and their traditional policy. I gathered that, with their tongues in their cheeks, they advocated measures in which they did not themselves believe, should they think that by so doing they would be able to enhance their popularity and maintain themselves in office: that, in order to extricate themselves from some present difficulty, they were always prepared to mortgage the future recklessly, quite regardless of the ultimate consequences: that whilst professing the most liberal principles, they were absurdly exclusive in their private lives, not consorting with all and sundry as we poor Tories did: that convictions mattered less than office: that in fact nothing much mattered, provided that the government of the country remained permanently in the hands of a little oligarchy of Whig families, and that every office of profit under the Crown was, as a matter of course, allotted to some member of those favoured families. In proof of the latter statement, I learnt that the first act of my uncle Lord John, as Prime Minister, had been to appoint one of his brothers Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons, and to offer to another of his brothers, the Rev. Lord Wriothesley Russell, the vacant Bishopric of Oxford. Much to the credit of my clergyman-uncle, he declined the Bishopric, saying that he had neither the eloquence nor the administrative ability necessary for so high an office in the Church, and that he preferred to remain a plain country parson in his little parish, of which, at the time of his death, he had been Rector for fifty-six years. All of which only goes to show what absurdly erroneous ideas a child, anxious to learn, may pick up from listening to the conversation of his elders, even when one of those elders happened to be Mr. Disraeli himself.
Another ex-Prime Minister who was often at our house was the fourth Earl of Aberdeen, who had held office many times, and had been Prime Minister during the Crimean War. He must have been a very old man then, for he was born in 1784. I have no very distinct recollection of him. Oddly enough, Lord Aberdeen was both my great-uncle and my step-grandfather, for his first wife had been my grandfather's sister, and after her death, he married my grandfather's widow, his two wives thus being sisters-in-law. Judging by their portraits by Lawrence, which hung round our dining-room, my great-grandfather, old Lord Abercorn's sons and daughters must have been of singular and quite unusual personal beauty. Not one of the five attained the age of twenty-nine, all of them succumbing early to consumption. Lord Aberdeen had a most unfortunate skin and complexion, and in addition he was deeply pitted with small-pox. As a result his face looked exactly like a slice of brown bread, and "Old Brown Bread" he was always called by my elder brothers and sisters, who had but little love for him, for he disliked young people, and always made the most disagreeable remarks he could think of to them. I remember once being taken to see him at Argyll House, Regent Street, on the site of which the "Palladium" now stands. I recollect perfectly the ugly, gloomy house, and its uglier and gloomier garden, but I have no remembrance of "Old Brown Bread" himself, or of what he said to me, which, considering his notorious dislike to children, is perhaps quite as well.
Of a very different type was another constant and always welcome visitor to our house, Sir Edwin Landseer, the painter. He was one of my father and mother's oldest friends, and had been an equally close friend of my grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. He had painted three portraits of my father, and five of my mother. Two of the latter had been engraved, and, under the titles of "Cottage Industry" and "The Mask," had a very large sale in mid-Victorian days. His large picture of my two eldest sisters, which hung over our dining-room chimney-piece, had also been engraved, and was a great favourite, under the title of "The Abercorn Children." Landseer was a most delightful person, and the best company that can be imagined. My father and mother were quite devoted to him, and both of them always addressed him as "Lanny." My mother going to call on him at his St. John's Wood house, found "Lanny" in the garden, working from a ladder on a gigantic mass of clay. Turning the corner, she was somewhat alarmed at finding a full-grown lion stretched out on the lawn. Landseer had been commissioned by the Government to model the four lions for the base of Nelson's pillar in Trafalgar Square. He had made some studies in the Zoological Gardens, but as he always preferred working from the live model, he arranged that an elderly and peculiarly docile lion should be brought to his house from the Zoo in a furniture van attended by two keepers. Should any one wish to know what that particular lion looked like, they have only to glance at the base of the Nelson pillar. On paying an afternoon call, it is so unusual to find a live lion included amongst the guests, that my mother's perturbation at finding herself in such close proximity to a huge loose carnivore is, perhaps, pardonable. Landseer is, of course, no longer in fashion as a painter. I quite own that at times his colour is unpleasing, owing to the bluish tint overlaying it; but surely no one will question his draughtsmanship? And has there ever been a finer animal-painter? Perhaps he was really a black-and-white man. My family possess some three hundred drawings of his: some in pen and ink, some in wash, some in pencil. I personally prefer his very delicate pencil work, over which he sometimes threw a light wash of colour. No one, seeing some of his pen and ink work, can deny that he was a master of line. A dozen scratches, and the whole picture is there! There is a charming little Landseer portrait of my mother with my eldest sister, in Room III of the Tate Gallery. Landseer preferred painting on panel, and he never would allow his pictures to be varnished. His wishes have been obeyed in that respect; none of the Landseers my family possess have ever been varnished.
He was certainly an unconventional guest in a country house. My father had rented a deer-forest on a long lease from Cluny Macpherson, and had built a large house there, on Loch Laggan. As that was before the days of railways, the interior of the house at Ardverikie was necessarily very plain, and the rooms were merely whitewashed. Landseer complained that the glare of the whitewash in the dining-room hurt his eyes, and without saying a word to any one, he one day produced his colours, mounted a pair of steps, and proceeded to rough-in a design in charcoal on the white walls. He worked away until he had completely covered the walls with frescoes in colour. The originals of some of his best-known engravings, "The Sanctuary," "The Challenge," "The Monarch of the Glen," made their first appearance on the walls of the dining-room at Ardverikie. The house was unfortunately destroyed by fire some years later, and Landseer's frescoes perished with it.
At another time, my father leased for two years a large house in the Midlands. The dining-hall of this house was hung with hideously wooden full-length portraits of the family owning it. Landseer declared that these monstrous pictures took away his appetite, so without any permission he one day mounted a ladder, put in high-lights with white chalk over the oils, made the dull eyes sparkle, and gave some semblance of life to these forlorn effigies. Pleased with his success, he then brightened up the flesh tints with red chalk, and put some drawing into the faces. To complete his work, he rubbed blacks into the backgrounds with charcoal. The result was so excellent that we let it remain. At the conclusion of my father's tenancy, the family to whom the place belonged were perfectly furious at the disrespect with which their cherished portraits had been treated, for it was a traditional article of faith with them that they were priceless works of art.
Towards the end of his life Landseer became hopelessly insane and, during his periods of violence a dangerous homicidal maniac. Such an affection, however, had my father and mother for the friend of their younger days, that they still had him to stay with us in Kent for long periods. He had necessarily to bring a large retinue with him: his own trained mental attendant; Dr. Tuke, a very celebrated alienist in his day; and, above all, Mrs. Pritchard. The case of Mrs. Pritchard is such an instance of devoted friendship as to be worth recording. She was an elderly widow of small means, Landseer's neighbour in St. John's Wood; a little dried-up, shrivelled old woman. The two became firm allies, and when Landseer's reason became hopelessly deranged, Mrs. Pritchard devoted her whole life to looking after her afflicted friend. In spite of her scanty means, she refused to accept any salary, and Landseer was like wax in her hands. In his most violent moods when the keeper and Dr. Tuke both failed to quiet him, Mrs. Pritchard had only to hold up her finger and he became calm at once. Either his clouded reason or some remnant of his old sense of fun led him to talk of Mrs. Pritchard as his "pocket Venus." To people staying with us (who, I think, were a little alarmed at finding themselves in the company of a lunatic, however closely watched he might be), he would say, "In two minutes you will see the loveliest of her sex. A little dainty creature, perfect in feature, perfect in shape, who might have stepped bodily out of the frame of a Greuze. A perfect dream of loveliness." They were considerably astonished when a little wizened woman, with a face like a withered apple, entered the room. He was fond, too, of descanting on Mrs. Pritchard's wonderfully virtuous temperament, notwithstanding her amazing charms. Visitors probably reflected that, given her appearance, the path of duty must have been rendered very easy to her.
Landseer painted his last Academy picture, "The Baptismal Font," whilst staying with us. It is a perfectly meaningless composition, representing a number of sheep huddled round a font, for whatever allegorical significance he originally meant to give it eluded the poor clouded brain. As he always painted from the live model, he sent down to the Home Farm for two sheep, which he wanted driven upstairs into his bedroom, to the furious indignation of the housekeeper, who declared, with a certain amount of reason, that it was impossible to keep a house well if live sheep were to be allowed in the best bedrooms. So Landseer, his easel and colours and his sheep were all transferred to the garden.
On another occasion there was some talk about a savage bull. Landseer, muttering, "Bulls! bulls! bulls!" snatched up an album of my sister's, and finding a blank page in it, made an exquisite little drawing of a charging bull. The disordered brain repeating "Bulls! bulls! bulls!" he then drew a bulldog, a pair of bullfinches surrounded by bulrushes, and a hooked bull trout fighting furiously for freedom. That page has been cut out and framed for fifty years.
The "swells" of the "sixties"—Old Lord Claud Hamilton—My first presentation to Queen Victoria—Scandalous behaviour of a brother—Queen Victoria's letters—Her character and strong common sense—My mother's recollections of George III. and George IV.—Carlton House, and the Brighton Pavilion—Queen Alexandra—The Fairchild Family—Dr. Cumming and his church—A clerical Jazz—First visit to Paris—General de Flahault's account of Napoleon's campaign of 1812—Another curious link with the past—"Something French"—Attraction of Paris—Cinderella's glass slipper—A glimpse of Napoleon III.—The Rue de Rivoli The Riviera in 1865—A novel Tricolor flag—Jenny Lind—The championship of the Mediterranean—My father's boat and crew—The race—The Abercorn wins the championship.
Every one familiar with John Leech's Pictures from Punch must have an excellent idea of the outward appearance of "swells" of the "sixties."
As a child I had an immense admiration for these gorgeous beings, though, between ourselves, they must have been abominably loud dressers. They affected rather vulgar sealskin waistcoats, with the festoons of a long watch-chain meandering over them, above which they exhibited a huge expanse of black or blue satin, secured by two scarf-pins of the same design, linked together, like Siamese twins, by a little chain.
A reference to Leech's drawings will show the flamboyant checked "pegtop" trousers in which they delighted. Their principal adornment lay in their immense "Dundreary" whiskers, usually at least eight inches long. In a high wind these immensely long whiskers blew back over their owners' shoulders in the most comical fashion, and they must have been horribly inconvenient. I determined early in life to affect, when grown-up, longer whiskers than any one else—if possible down to my waist; but alas for human aspirations! By the time that I had emerged from my chrysalis stage, Dundreary whiskers had ceased to be the fashion; added to which unkind Nature had given me a hairless face.
My uncle, old Lord Claud Hamilton, known in our family as "The Dowager," adhered, to the day of his death, to the William IV. style of dress. He wore an old-fashioned black-satin stock right up to his chin, with white "gills" above, and was invariably seen in a blue coat with brass buttons, and a buff waistcoat. My uncle was one of the handsomest men in England, and had sat for nearly forty years in Parliament. He had one curious faculty. He could talk fluently and well on almost any topic at indefinite length, a very useful gift in the House of Commons of those days. On one occasion when it was necessary "to talk a Bill out," he got up without any preparation whatever, and addressed the House in flowing periods for four hours and twenty minutes. His speech held the record for length for many years, but it was completely eclipsed in the early "eighties" by the late Mr. Biggar, who spoke (if my memory serves me right) for nearly six hours on one occasion. Biggar, however, merely read interminable extracts from Blue Books, whereas my uncle indulged in four hours of genuine rhetorical declamation. My uncle derived his nickname from the fact that in our family the second son is invariably christened Claud, so I had already a brother of that name. There happen to be three Lord Claud Hamiltons living now, of three successive generations.
I shall never forget my bitter disappointment the first time I was taken, at a very early age, to see Queen Victoria. I had pictured to myself a dazzling apparition arrayed in sumptuous robes, seated on a golden throne; a glittering crown on her head, a sceptre in one hand, an orb grasped in the other. I had fancied Her Majesty seated thus, motionless during the greater part of the twenty-four hours, simply "reigning." I could have cried with disappointment when a middle-aged lady, simply dressed in widow's "weeds" and wearing a widow's cap, rose from an ordinary arm-chair to receive us. I duly made my bow, but having a sort of idea that it had to be indefinitely repeated, went on nodding like a porcelain Chinese mandarin, until ordered to stop.
Between ourselves, I behaved far better than a brother of mine once did under similar circumstances. Many years before I was born, my father lent his Scotch house to Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort for ten days. This entailed my two eldest sisters and two eldest brothers vacating their nurseries in favour of the Royal children, and their being transferred to the farm, where they had very cramped quarters indeed. My second brother deeply resented being turned out of his comfortable nursery, and refused to be placated. On the day after the Queen's arrival, my mother took her four eldest children to present them to Her Majesty, my sisters dressed in their best clothes, my brothers being in kilts. They were duly instructed as to how they were to behave, and upon being presented, my two sisters made their curtsies, and my eldest brother made his best bow. "And this, your Majesty, is my second boy. Make your bow, dear," said my mother; but my brother, his heart still hot within him at being expelled from his nursery, instead of bowing, STOOD ON HIS HEAD IN HIS KILT, and remained like that, an accomplishment of which he was very proud. The Queen was exceedingly angry, so later in the day, upon my brother professing deep penitence, he was taken back to make his apologies, when he did precisely the same thing over again, and was consequently in disgrace during the whole of the Royal visit. In strict confidence, I believe that he would still do it to-day, more than seventy-two years later.
During her stay in my father's house the Queen quite unexpectedly announced that she meant to give a dance. This put my mother in a great difficulty, for my sisters had no proper clothes for a ball, and in those pre-railway days it would have taken at least ten days to get anything from Edinburgh or Glasgow. My mother had a sudden inspiration. The muslin curtains in the drawing-room! The drawing-room curtains were at once commandeered; the ladies'-maids set to work with a will, and I believe that my sisters looked extremely well dressed in the curtains, looped up with bunches of rowan or mountain-ash berries.
My mother was honoured with Queen Victoria's close friendship and confidence for over fifty years. At the time of her death she had in her possession a numerous collection of letters from the Queen, many of them very long ones. By the express terms of my mother's will, those letters will never be published. Many of them touch on exceedingly private matters relating to the Royal family, others refer to various political problems of the day. I have read all those letters carefully, and I fully endorse my mother's views. She was honoured with the confidence of her Sovereign, and that confidence cannot be betrayed. The letters are in safe custody, and there they will remain. On reading them it is impossible not to be struck with Queen Victoria's amazing shrewdness, and with her unfailing common sense. It so happens that both a brother and a sister of mine, the late Duchess of Buccleuch, were brought into very close contact with Queen Victoria. It was this quality of strong common sense in the Queen which continually impressed them, as well as her very high standard of duty.
My brother George was twice Secretary of State for India. The Queen was fond of suggesting amendments in the wording of dispatches relating to India, whilst not altering their sense. My brother tells me that the alterations suggested by the Queen were invariably in the direction of simplification. The Queen had a knack of stripping away unnecessary verbiage and reducing a sentence to its simplest form, in which its meaning was unmistakably clear.
All Queen Victoria's tastes were simple. She liked simplicity in dress, in food, and in her surroundings. If I may say so without disrespect, I think that Queen Victoria's great hold on her people came from the fact that, in spite of her high station, she had the ideals, the tastes, the likes and dislikes of the average clean-living, clean-minded wife of the average British professional man, together with the strict ideals as to the sanctity of the marriage-tie, the strong sense of duty, and the high moral standard such wives usually possess.
It is, of course, the easy fashion now to sneer at Victorian standards. To my mind they embody all that is clean and sound in the nation. It does not follow that because Victorians revelled in hideous wall-papers and loved ugly furniture, that therefore their points-of-view were mistaken ones. There are things more important than wall-papers. They certainly liked the obvious in painting, in music, and perhaps in literature, but it hardly seems to follow logically from that, that their conceptions of a man's duty to his wife, family, and country were necessarily false ones. They were not afflicted with the perpetual modern restlessness, nor did they spend "their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing"; still, all their ideas seem to me eminently sweet and wholesome.
In her old age my mother was the last person living who had seen George III. She remembered perfectly seeing the old King, in one of his rare lucid intervals, driving through London, when he was enthusiastically cheered.
She was also the last person alive who had been at Carlton House which was pulled down in 1826. My mother at the age of twelve danced as a solo "The Spanish Shawl dance" before George IV. at the Pavilion, Brighton. The King was so delighted with her dancing that he went up to her and said, "You are a very pretty little girl, and you dance charmingly. Now is there anything I can do for you?" The child answered, "Yes, there is. Your Majesty can bring me some ham sandwiches and a glass of port-wine negus, for I am very hungry," and to do George IV. justice, he promptly brought them. My mother was painted by a French artist doing her "shawl dance," and if it is a faithful likeness, she must have been an extraordinarily pretty child. On another occasion at a children's party at Carlton House, my uncle, General Lord Alexander Russell, a very outspoken little boy, had been warned by his mother, the Duchess of Bedford, that though the King wore a palpable wig, he was to take no notice whatever of it. To my mother's dismay, she heard her little brother go up to the King and say, "I know that your Majesty wears a wig, but I've been told not to say anything about it, so I promised not to tell any one."
Carlton House stood, from all I can learn, at the top of the Duke of York's steps. Several engravings of its beautiful gardens are still to be found. These gardens extended from the present Carlton House Terrace to Pall Mall. Not only the Terrace, but the Carlton, Reform, Travellers', Athenaeum, and United Service Clubs now stand on their site. They were separated from Pall Mall by an open colonnade, and the Corinthian pillars from the front of Carlton House were re-erected in 1834 as the portico of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
As a child I had a wild adoration for Queen Alexandra (then, of course, Princess of Wales), whom I thought the most beautiful person I had ever seen in my life, and I dare say that I was not far wrong. When I was taken to Marlborough House, I remembered and treasured up every single word she said to me. I was not present at the child's tea-party at Marlborough House given by the little Princess, including his present Majesty, when SOME ONE (my loyalty absolutely refuses to let me say who) suggested that as the woven flowers on the carpet looked rather faded, it might be as well to water them. The boys present, including the little Princes, gleefully emptied can after can of water on to the floor in their attempts to revive the carpet, to the immense improvement of the ceiling and furniture of the room underneath.
In the "sixties" Sunday was very strictly observed. In our own Sabbatarian family, our toys and books all disappeared on Saturday night. On Sundays we were only allowed to read Line upon Line, The Peep of Day, and The Fairchild Family. I wonder if any one ever reads this book now. If they haven't, they should. Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild were, I regret to say it, self-righteous prigs of the deepest dye, whilst Lucy, Emily, and Henry, their children, were all little prodigies of precocious piety. It was a curious menage; Mr. Fairchild having no apparent means of livelihood, and no recreations beyond perpetually reading the Bible under a tree in the garden. Mrs. Fairchild had the peculiar gift of being able to recite a different prayer off by heart applicable to every conceivable emergency; whilst John, their man-servant, was a real "handy-man," for he was not only gardener, but looked after the horse and trap, cleaned out the pigsties, and waited at table. One wonders in what sequence he performed his various duties, but perhaps the Fairchilds had not sensitive noses. Even the possibly odoriferous John had a marvellous collection of texts at his command. It was refreshing after all this to learn that on one occasion all three of the little Fairchilds got very drunk, which, as the eldest of them was only ten, would seem to indicate that, in spite of their aggressive piety, they had their fair dose of original sin still left in them. I liked the book notwithstanding. There was plenty about eating and drinking; one could always skip the prayers, and there were three or four very brightly written accounts of funerals in it. I was present at a "Fairchild Family" dinner given some twenty years ago in London by Lady Buxton, wife of the present Governor-General of South Africa, at which every one of the guests had to enact one of the characters of the book.
My youngest brother had a great taste for drawing, and was perpetually depicting terrific steeplechases. From a confusion of ideas natural to a child, he always introduced a church steeple into the corner of his drawings. One Sunday he had drawn a most spirited and hotly-contested "finish" to a steeplechase. When remonstrated with on the ground that it was not a "Sunday" subject, he pointed to the church steeple and said, "You don't understand. This is Sunday, and those jockeys are all racing to see which of them can get to church first," which strikes me as a peculiarly ready and ingenious explanation for a child of six.
In London we all went on Sundays to the Scottish Presbyterian Church in Crown Court, just opposite Drury Lane Theatre. Dr. Cumming, the minister of the church at that time, enjoyed an immense reputation amongst his congregation. He was a very eloquent man, but was principally known as always prophesying the imminent end of the world. He had been a little unfortunate in some of the dates he had predicted for the final cataclysm, these dates having slipped by uneventfully without anything whatever happening, but finally definitely fixed on a date in 1867 as the exact date of the Great Catastrophe. His influence with his flock rather diminished when it was found that Dr. Cumming had renewed the lease of his house for twenty-one years, only two months before the date he had fixed with absolute certainty as being the end of all things. All the same, I am certain that he was thoroughly in earnest and perfectly genuine in his convictions. As a child I thought the church—since rebuilt—absolutely beautiful, but it was in reality a great, gaunt, barn-like structure. It was always crammed. We were very old-fashioned, for we sat down to sing, and we stood to pray, and there was no instrument of any sort. The pew in front of us belonged to Lord Aberdeen, and his brother Admiral Gordon, one of the Elders, always sat in it with his high hat on, conversing at the top of his voice until the minister entered, when he removed his hat and kept silence. This was, I believe, intended as a protest against the idea of there being any special sanctity attached to the building itself qua building. Dr. Cumming had recently introduced an anthem, a new departure rather dubiously welcomed by his flock. It was the singular custom of his congregation to leave their pews during the singing of this anthem and to move about in the aisles; whether as a protest against a daring innovation, or merely to stretch their limbs, or to seek better places, I could never make out.
Dr. Cumming invariably preached for over an hour, sometimes for an hour and a half, and yet I never felt bored or wearied by his long discourses, but really looked forward to them. This was because his sermons, instead of consisting of a string of pious platitudes, interspersed with trite ejaculations and irrelevant quotations, were one long chain of closely-reasoned argument. Granted his first premiss, his second point followed logically from it, and so he led his hearers on point by point, all closely argued, to an indisputable conclusion. I suppose that the inexorable logic of it all appealed to the Scottish side of me. His preaching had the same fascination for me that Euclid's propositions exercised later, even on my hopelessly unmathematical mind.
Whatever the weather, we invariably walked home from Drury Lane to South Audley Street, a long trudge for young feet, as my mother had scruples about using the carriages on Sundays.
Neither my father nor my mother ever dined out on a Sunday, nor did they invite people to dinner on that day, for they wished as far as possible to give those in their employment a day of rest. All quite hopelessly Victorian! for, after all, why should people ever think of anybody but themselves?
Dr. Cumming was a great bee-fancier, and a recognised authority on bees. Calling one day on my mother, he brought with him four queen-bees of a new breed, each one encased in a little paper bag. He prided himself on his skill in handling bees, and proudly exhibited those treasures to my mother. He replaced them in their paper bags, and being a very absent-minded man, he slipped the bags into the tail pocket of his clerical frock-coat. Soon after he began one of his long arguments (probably fixing the exact date of the end of the world), and, totally oblivious of the presence of the bees in his tail pocket, he leant against the mantelpiece. The queen-bees, naturally resenting the pressure, stung him through the cloth on that portion of his anatomy immediately nearest to their temporary prison. Dr. Cumming yelled with pain, and began skipping all round the room. It so tickled my fancy to see the grim and austere minister, who towered above me in the pulpit every Sunday, executing a sort of solo-Jazz dance up and down the big room, punctuated with loud cries, that I rolled about on the floor with laughter.
The London of the "sixties" was a very dark and dingy place. The streets were sparingly lit with the dimmest of gas-jets set very far apart: the shop-windows made no display of lights, and the general effect was one of intense gloom.
Until I was seven years old, I had never left the United Kingdom. We then all went to Paris for a fortnight, on our way to the Riviera. I well remember leaving London at 7 a.m. on a January morning, in the densest of fogs. So thick was the fog that the footman had to lead the horses all the way to Charing Cross Station. Ten hours later I found myself in a fairy city of clean white stone houses, literally blazing with light. I had never imagined such a beautiful, attractive place, and indeed the contrast between the dismal London of the "sixties" and this brilliant, glittering town was unbelievable. Paris certainly deserved the title of "La Ville Lumiere" in a literal sense. I like the French expression, "une ville ruisselante de lumiere," "a city dripping with light." That is an apt description of the Paris of the Second Empire, for it was hardly a manufacturing city then, and the great rim of outlying factories that now besmirch the white stone of its house fronts had not come into existence, the atmosphere being as clear as in the country. A naturally retentive memory is apt to store up perfectly useless items of information. What possible object can there be to my remembering that the engine which hauled us from Calais to Paris in 1865 was built by J. Cail of Paris, on the "Crampton" system; that is, that the axle of the big single driving-wheels did not run under the frame of the engine, but passed through the "cab" immediately under the pressure-gauge?—nor can any useful purpose be served in recalling that we crossed the Channel in the little steamer La France.
In those days people of a certain class in England maintained far closer social relations with people of the corresponding class in France than is the custom now, and this was mutual. Society in both capitals was far smaller. My father and mother had many friends in Paris, and amongst the oldest of them were the Comte and Comtesse de Flahault. General de Flahault had been the personal aide-de-camp and trusted friend of Napoleon I. Some people, indeed, declared that his connection with Napoleon III. was of a far closer nature, for his great friendship with Queen Hortense was a matter of common knowledge. For some reason or another the old General took a fancy to me, and finding that I could talk French fluently, he used to take me to his room, stuff me with chocolate, and tell me about Napoleon's Russian campaign in 1812, in which he had taken part, I was then seven years old, and the old Comte must have been seventy-eight or so, but it is curious that I should have heard from the actual lips of a man who had taken part in it, the account of the battle of Borodino, of the entry of the French troops into Moscow, of the burning of Moscow, and of the awful sufferings the French underwent during their disastrous retreat from Moscow. General de Flahault had been present at the terrible carnage of the crossing of the Beresina on November 26, 1812, and had got both his feet frost-bitten there, whilst his faithful servant David had died from the effects of the cold. I wish that I could have been older then, or have had more historical knowledge, for it was a unique opportunity for acquiring information. I wish, too, that I could recall more of what M. de Flahault told me. I have quite vivid recollections of the old General himself, of the room in which we sat, and especially of the chocolates which formed so agreeable an accompaniment to our conversations. Still it remains an interesting link with the Napoleonic era. This is 1920; that was 1812!
I can never hear Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" without thinking of General de Flahault. The present Lord Lansdowne is the Comte de Flahault's grandson.
Nearly fifty years later another interesting link with the past was forged. I was dining with Prince and Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein at Schomberg House. When the ladies left the room after dinner, H. R. H. was good enough to ask me to sit next him. Some train of thought was at work in the Prince's mind, for he suddenly said, "Do you know that you are sitting next a man who once took Napoleon I.'s widow, the Empress Marie Louise, in to dinner?" and the Prince went on to say that as a youth of seventeen he had accompanied his father on a visit to the Emperor of Austria at Schonbrunn. On the occasion of a state dinner, one of the Austrian Archdukes became suddenly indisposed. Sooner than upset all the arrangements, the young Prince of Schleswig-Holstein was given the ex-Empress to lead in to dinner.
I must again repeat that this is 1920. Napoleon married Marie Louise in 1810.
Both my younger brother and I were absolutely fascinated by Paris, its streets and public gardens. As regards myself, something of the glamour of those days still remains; Paris is not quite to me as other towns, and I love its peculiar smell, which a discriminating nose would analyse as one-half wood-smoke, one-quarter roasting coffee, and one-quarter drains. During the eighteen years of the Second Empire, Paris reached a height of material prosperity and of dazzling brilliance which she has never known before nor since. The undisputed social capital of Europe, the equally undisputed capital of literature and art, the great pleasure-city of the world, she stood alone and without a rival. "La Ville Lumiere!" My mother remembered the Paris of her youth as a place of tortuous, abominably paved, dimly lit streets, poisoned with atrocious smells; this glittering town of palaces and broad white avenues was mainly the creation of Napoleon III. himself, aided by Baron Georges Haussmann and the engineer Adolphe Alphand, who between them evolved and made the splendid Paris that we know.
We loved the Tuileries gardens, a most attractive place for children in those days. There were swings and merry-go-rounds; there were stalls where hot brioches and gaufres were to be bought; there were, above all, little marionette theatres where the most fascinating dramas were enacted. Our enjoyment of these performances was rather marred by our anxious nurse, who was always terrified lest there should be "something French" in the little plays; something quite unfitted for the eyes and ears of two staid little Britons. As the worthy woman was a most indifferent French scholar, we were often hurried away quite unnecessarily from the most innocuous performances when our faithful watch-dog scented the approach of "something French." All the shops attracted us, but especially the delightful toy-shops. Here, again, we were seldom allowed to linger, our trusty guardian being obsessed with the idea that the toy-shops might include amongst their wares "something French." She was perfectly right; there WAS often something "very French," but my brother and I had always seen it and noted it before we were moved off from the windows.
I wonder if any "marchands de coco" still survive in Paris. "Coco" had nothing to do with cocoa, but was a most mawkish beverage compounded principally of liquorice and water. The attraction about it lay in the great tank the vendor carried strapped to his back. This tank was covered with red velvet and gold tinsel, and was surmounted with a number of little tinkling silver bells. In addition to that, the "marchand de coco" carried all over him dozens of silver goblets, or, at all events, goblets that looked like silver, in which he handed out his insipid brew. Who would not long to drink out of a silver cup a beverage that flowed out of a red and gold tank, covered with little silver bells, be it never so mawkish?
The gardens of the Luxembourg were, if anything, even more attractive than the Tuileries gardens.
Another delightful place for children was the Hippodrome, long since demolished and built over. It was a huge open-air stadium, where, in addition to ordinary circus performances, there were chariot-races and gladiatorial combats. The great attraction of the Hippodrome was that all the performers were driven into the arena in a real little Cinderella gilt coach, complete with four little ponies, a diminutive coachman, and two tiny little footmen.
Talking of Cinderella, I always wonder that no one has pointed out the curious mistake the original translator of this story fell into. If any one will take the trouble to consult Perrault's Cendrillon in the original French, he or she will find that Cinderella went to the ball with her feet encased in "des pantoufles de vair." Now, vair means grey or white fur, ermine or miniver. The word is now obsolete, though it still survives in heraldry. The translator, misled by the similarity of sound between "vair" and "verre," rendered it "glass" instead of "ermine," and Cinderella's glass slippers have become a British tradition. What would "Cinderella" be as a pantomime without the scene where she triumphantly puts on her glass slipper? And yet, a little reflection would show that it would be about as easy to dance in a pair of glass slippers as it would in a pair of fisherman's waders.
I remember well seeing Napoleon III. and the Empress Eugenie driving down the Rue de Rivoli on their return from the races at Longchamp. I and my brother were standing close to the edge of the pavement, and they passed within a few feet of us. They were driving in a char-a-banes—in French parlance, "attele a la Daumont"—that is, with four horses, of which the wheelers are driven from the box by a coachman, and the leaders ridden by a postilion. The Emperor and Empress were attended by an escort of mounted Cent-Gardes, and over the carriage there was a curious awning of light blue silk, with a heavy gold fringe, probably to shield the occupants from the sun at the races. I thought the Emperor looked very old and tired, but the Empress was still radiantly beautiful. My young brother, even then a bigoted little patriot, obstinately refused to take off his cap. "He isn't MY Emperor," he kept repeating, "and I won't do it." The shrill cries of "Vive l'Empereur!" seemed to me a very inadequate substitute for the full-throated cheers with which our own Queen was received when she drove through London. I used to hear the Emperor alluded to as "Badinguet" by the hall-porter of our hotel, who was a Royalist, and consequently detested the Bonapartes.
My father had been on very friendly terms with Napoleon III., then Prince Louis Napoleon, during the period of his exile in London in 1838, when he lived in King Street, St. James'. Prince Louis Napoleon acted as my father's "Esquire" at the famous Eglinton Tournament in August, 1839. The tournament, over which such a vast amount of trouble and expense had been lavished, was ruined by an incessant downpour of rain, which lasted four days. My father gave me as a boy the "Challenge Shield" with coat of arms, which hung outside his tent at the tournament, and that shield has always accompanied me in my wanderings. It hangs within a few feet of me as I write, as it hung forty-three years ago in my room in Berlin, and later in Petrograd, Lisbon, and Buenos Ayres.
One of the great sights of Paris in the "sixties," whilst it was still gas-lighted, was the "cordon de lumiere de la Rue de Rivoli." As every one knows, the Rue de Rivoli is nearly two miles long, and runs perfectly straight, being arcaded throughout its length. In every arch of the arcades there hung then a gas lamp. At night the continuous ribbon of flame from these lamps, stretching in endless vista down the street, was a fascinatingly beautiful sight. Every French provincial who visited Paris was expected to admire the "cordon de lumiere de la Rue de Rivoli." Now that electricity has replaced gas, I fancy that the lamps are placed further apart, and so the effect of a continuous quivering band of yellow flame is lost. Equally every French provincial had to admire the "luxe de gaz" of the Place de la Concorde. It certainly blazed with gas, but now with electric arc-lamps there is double the light with less than a tenth of the number of old flickering gas-lamps; another example of quality vs. quantity.
Most of my father and mother's French friends lived in the Faubourg Saint Germain. Their houses, though no doubt very fine for entertaining, were dark and gloomy in the daytime. Our little friends of my own age seemed all to inhabit dim rooms looking into courtyards, where, however, we were bidden to unbelievably succulent repasts, very different to the plain fare to which we were accustomed at home. Both my brother and myself were, I think, unconscious as to whether we were speaking English or French; we could express ourselves with equal facility in either language. When I first went to school, I could speak French as well as English, and it is a wonderful tribute to the efficient methods of teaching foreign languages practised in our English schools, that at the end of nine years of French lessons, both at a preparatory school and at Harrow, I had not forgotten much more than seventy-five per cent. of the French I knew when I went there. In the same way, after learning German at Harrow for two-and-a-half years, my linguistic attainments in that language were limited to two words, ja and nein. It is true that, for some mysterious reason, German was taught us at Harrow by a Frenchman who had merely a bowing acquaintanceship with the tongue.
In 1865 the fastest train from Paris to the Riviera took twenty-six hours to accomplish the journey, and then was limited to first-class passengers. There were, of course, neither dining-cars nor sleeping cars, no heating, and no toilet accommodation. Eight people were jammed into a first-class compartment, faintly lit by the dim flicker of an oil-lamp, and there they remained. I remember that all the French ladies took off their bonnets or hats, and replaced them with thick knitted woollen hoods and capes combined, which they fastened tightly round their heads. They also drew on knitted woollen over-boots; these, I suppose, were remnants of the times, not very far distant then, when all-night journeys had frequently to be made in the diligence.
The Riviera of 1865 was not the garish, flamboyant rendezvous of cosmopolitan finance, of ostentatious newly acquired wealth, and of highly decorative ladies which it has since become. Cannes, in particular, was a quiet little place of surpassing beauty, frequented by a few French and English people, most of whom were there on account of some delicate member of their families. We went there solely because my sister, Lady Mount Edgcumbe, had already been attacked by lung-disease, and to prolong her life it was absolutely necessary for her to winter in a warm climate. Lord Brougham, the ex-Lord Chancellor, had virtually created Cannes, as far as English people were concerned, and the few hotels there were still unpretentious and comfortable.
Amongst the French boys of our own age with whom we played daily was Antoine de Mores, eldest son of the Duc de Vallombrosa. Later on in life the Marquis de Mores became a fanatical Anglophobe, and he lost his life leading an army of irregular Arab cavalry against the British forces in the Sudan; murdered, if I remember rightly, by his own men. Most regretfully do I attribute Antoine de Mores' violent Anglophobia to the very rude things I and my brother were in the habit of saying to him when we quarrelled, which happened on an average about four times a day.
The favourite game of these French boys was something like our "King of the Castle," only that the victor had to plant his flag on the summit of the "Castle." Amongst our young friends were the two sons of the Duc Des Cars, a strong Legitimist, the Vallombrosa boy's family being Bonapartists. So whilst my brother and I naturally carried "Union Jacks," young Antoine de Mores had a tricolour, but the two Des Cars boys carried white silk flags, with a microscopic border of blue and red ribbon running down either side. One day, as boys will do, we marched through the town in procession with our flags, when the police stopped us and seized the young Des Cars' white banners, the display of the white flag of the Bourbons being then strictly forbidden in France. The Des Cars boys' abbe, or priest-tutor, pointed out to the police the narrow edging of red and blue on either side, and insisted on it that the flags were really tricolours, though the proportion in which the colours were displayed might be an unusual one. The three colours were undoubtedly there, so the police released the flags, though I feel sure that that abbe must have been a Jesuit.
The Comte de Chambord (the Henri V. of the Legitimists) was virtually offered the throne of France in either 1874 or 1875, but all the negotiations failed because he obstinately refused to recognise the Tricolour, and insisted upon retaining the white flag of his ancestors. Any one with the smallest knowledge of the psychology of the French nation must have known that under no circumstances whatever would they consent to abandon their adored Tricolour. The Tricolour is part of themselves: it is a part of their very souls; it is more than a flag, it is almost a religion. I wonder that in 1875 it never occurred to any one to suggest to the Comte de Chambord the ingenious expedient of the Des Cars boys. The Tricolour would be retained as the national flag, but the King could have as his personal standard a white flag bordered with almost invisible bands of blue and red. Technically, it would still be a tricolour, and on the white expanse the golden fleur-de-lys of the Bourbons could be embroidered, or any other device.
Even had the Comte de Chambord ascended the throne, I am convinced that his tenure of it as Henri V. would have been a very brief one, given the temperament of the French nation.
My youngest brother managed to contract typhoid fever at Cannes about this time, and during his convalescence he was moved to an hotel standing on much higher ground than our villa, on account of the fresher air there. A Madame Goldschmidt was staying at this hotel, and she took a great fancy to the little fellow, then about six years old. On two occasions I found Madame Goldschmidt in my brother's room, singing to him in a voice as sweet and spontaneous as a bird's. My brother was a very highly favoured little mortal, for Madame Goldschmidt was no other than the world-famous Jenny Lind, the incomparable songstress who had had all Europe at her feet. She had then retired from the stage for some years, but her voice was as sweet as ever. The nineteenth century was fortunate in having produced two such peerless singers as Adelina Patti and Jenny Lind, "the Swedish Nightingale." The present generation are not likely to hear their equals. Both these great singers had that same curious bird-like quality in their voices; they sang without any effort in crystal-clear tones, as larks sing.
In 1865 it was announced that there would be a great regatta at Cannes in the spring of 1866, and that the Emperor Napoleon would give a special prize for the open rowing (not sculling) championship of the Mediterranean. We further learnt that the whole of the French Mediterranean fleet would be at Villefranche at the time, and that picked oarsmen from the fleet would compete for the championship. My father at once determined to win this prize; the idea became a perfect obsession with him, and he determined to have a special boat built. When we returned to England, he went to Oxford and entered into long consultations with a famous boat-builder there. The boat, a four-oar, had to be built on special lines. She must be light and fast, yet capable of withstanding a heavy sea, for off Cannes the Mediterranean can be very lumpy indeed, and it would be obviously inconvenient to have the boat swamped, and her crew all drowned. The boat-builder having mastered the conditions, felt certain that he could turn out the craft required, which my father proposed to stroke himself.
When we returned to Cannes in 1866, the completed boat was sent out by sea, and we saw her released from her casing with immense interest. She was christened in due form, with a bottle of champagne, by our first cousin, the venerable Lady de Ros, and named the Abercorn. Lady de Ros was a daughter of the Duke of Richmond, and had been present at the famous ball in Brussels on the eve of Waterloo in 1815; a ball given by her father in honour of her youngest sister.
The crew then went into serious training. Bow was Sir David Erskine, for many years Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons; No. 2, my brother-in-law, Lord Mount Edgcumbe; No. 3, General Sir George Higginson, with my father as stroke. Lord Elphinstone, who had been in the Navy early in life, officiated as coxswain. But my father was then fifty-five years old, and he soon found out that his heart was no longer equal to the strain to which so long and so very arduous a course (three miles), in rough water, would subject it. As soon as he realised that his age might militate against the chance of his crew winning, he resigned his place in the boat in favour of Sir George Higginson, who was replaced as No. 3 by Mr. Meysey-Clive. My father took Lord Elphinstone's place as coxswain, but here, again, his weight told against him. He was over six feet high and proportionately broad, and he brought the boat's stern too low down in the water, so Lord Elphinstone was re-installed, and my father most reluctantly had to content himself with the role of a spectator, in view of his age. The crew dieted strictly, ran in the mornings, and went to bed early. They were none of them in their first youth, for Sir George Higginson was then forty; Sir David Erskine was twenty-eight; my brother-in-law, Lord Mount Edgcumbe, thirty-four; and Lord Elphinstone thirty-eight.