The Scenery of London

Mitton, G. E.
1905

Dickens

Dickens

The London of Dickens is generally understood to mean the London which he has peopled with his characters, the old curiosity shop near Lincoln's Inn Fields; Newgate and Holborn, where the scenes of the riots took place; the Marshalsea prison for debtors; and so on, but here we have no space to dilate upon these places that he has made his own. The London of Dickens is to us the London that he knew and lived in. His actual residences are not so interesting as those of the men of letters that have gone before, because the aspect of the houses is familiar to us, the streets are as we see them now with but little alteration, though the districts are changed.

Dickens came to London first at two years old, but was only here for two years, and did not return again until he was a boy of nine. The family then went to Bayham Street, Camden Town, where the boy was a little family drudge, cleaning boots and running errands, yet his wide topographical acquaintance with London began then, for he often visited two uncles, one at Limehouse, and one in Gerrard Street, Soho, and his wanderings backwards and forwards to these two made a deep impression on his mind. When the family moved to 4 Gower Street North, a new era began. His father was carried to the Marshalsea, and the poor sickly little lad was employed to make bargains with pawnbrokers and to sell books to second-hand dealers. He sank still lower in being put to work in the terrible blacking warehouse so vividly described in David Copperfield. This was at Old Hungerford Stairs, near Hungerford Market, where Charing Cross railway station now is, and the boy in his wanderings during the dinner hour grew familiar with every court and lane in the neighbourhood. The market was then in a dilapidated condition, and was rebuilt seven or eight years subsequently, and ten years before Dickens's death he saw it superseded by the railway station. At the time when the delicate, exquisitely sensitive little boy worked at this toilsome occupation, Northumberland House still stood in its glory; Trafalgar Square had not been begun, but a network of dirty slums stretched over the ground near the church, and the Royal Mews were still to be seen where the fountains now play.

TRAFALGAR SQUAREA little later, at his own earnest request, he was taken from Camden Town, where he had been sent to lodge on the removal of the family from Gower Street, and was allowed to lodge beside the Marshalsea Prison, with which he became thoroughly acquainted. The Marshalsea has now completely vanished, but its site may be known by Angel Court, the first narrow passage north of St. George's Church in the Borough High Street.

When the family were released from the debtors' prison they went to Hampstead, then to Seymour Street, then to Bentinck Street, Manchester Square, while Charles attended an " Academy" in the Hampstead Road as a day boy for nearly two years, and afterwards worked for a while as a clerk in Gray's Inn. Later he was engaged as a reporter at the House of Commons, the old House of Commons, of course, where the Prince's Chamber, the Painted Chamber, the Star Chamber, and St. Stephen's Chapel still formed part of the group of buildings representing the old Palace of Westminster. Three years after Dickens's first connection with the House all these were swept away in the Great Fire of 1834. Dickens had chambers in Furnival's Inn for a time, on the north side of Holborn. It was not an old fabric, having been rebuilt in 1818, and now it has completely gone, its site being covered by the large red buildings of the Prudential Assurance Company. In 1837 he went to Doughty Street (No. 48), close to the Foundling Hospital. He was now a married man with a son; here he remained for two years, and then went to Devonshire Terrace, near the Marylebone Road. Dickens found inspiration in the turmoil of the London streets, which has driven many another writer to despair. When he was abroad he literally craved for the streets. "Put me down on Waterloo Bridge at eight o'clock in the evening," he wrote, " with leave to roam about as long as I like, and I would come home, as you know, panting to go on" ; and again at Lausanne he says he finds production at a rapid pace a great difficulty. " I suppose this is partly the effect of two years' ease, and partly of the absence of streets and numbers of figures. I can't express how much I want these. It seems as if they supplied something to my brain which it cannot bear when busy to lose." In 1850 he moved into Tavistock House, Tavistock Square, which he sold after ten years, when he made Gadshill, Rochester, his permanent residence.

In his life Dickens saw many changes in London; for example, every one of the great London railway stations was built; South Kensington practically came into existence with the great Exhibitions; Trafalgar Square , as we have said, was made; Barry's wonderful Houses of Parliament rose on the ashes of the old ones; New Oxford Street , Charing Cross Road, and Shaftesbury Avenue demolished many terrible slums, including the district of Seven Dials, which, though still partly standing, is rendered comparatively harmless by the neighbourhood of broad and respectable thoroughfares. The Fleet Prison and the Marshalsea were abolished. Just before his death the new Law Courts were begun, and many another improvement was made. Abuses were shown up by his vigorous pen, and he himself may be considered the incarnation of the spirit of a time when men began to regard humanity and cleanliness as first principles.

We have been made acquainted with the few selected as representative men of their age, but there remains yet the vast army of those who by birth or adoption have been the children of London, and whose names are associated with dwellings in her streets. What a magnificent host it is : men of letters, statesmen, artists, actors, poets, architects, and others! Even to give representative names is a huge task, and the list below is in no sense intended to be exhaustive or to indicate that there are not variations in ability high as the mountains or deep as the seas. Yet listen to the roll-call of this splendid regiment as it marches past : Camden, Bacon, Shakespeare , Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, Isaac Walton, Cromwell; these by birth belong to the sixteenth century, Cromwell indeed being born only within its last year. Sir Thomas Browne, Evelyn, Dryden, Pepys, Sir Isaac Newton, Strype, Sir Godfrey Kneller, the Duke of Marlborough, Defoe, Swift, Addison, Steele, Gay, Pope, Richardson, Hogarth: these are the contribution of the seventeenth century.

Fielding, Pitt, Hume, Gray, Horace Walpole, Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough, Goldsmith, Burke, Romney, Savage, Fox, Sheridan, Mrs. Siddons, Samuel Rogers, the Duke of Wellington, S. T. Coleridge, Lamb, Turner, Hazlitt, Palmerston, De Quincey, Kean, Byron, Cruikshank, Shelley, Keats, Hood, and Carlyle were born in the eighteenth century, though of course, as in previous lists, those near the end of the century belong by right of their lives to the succeeding one. Macaulay, Lord Lytton, Beaconsfield, Darwin, Thackeray, Browning, Leech, George Eliot, and Ruskin, not to mention names of living persons, are in the roll-call of the nineteenth.

These lists, as said at the beginning, are not intended to be exhaustive, but show something of the diversity of talent, the splendid record of this the greatest of cities.

The London of is generally understood to mean the London which he has peopled with his characters, the old curiosity shop near Lincoln's Inn Fields; Newgate and Holborn, where the scenes of the riots took place; the Marshalsea prison for debtors; and so on, but here we have no space to dilate upon these places that he has made his own. The London of is to us the London that he knew and lived in. His actual residences are not so interesting as those of the men of letters that have gone before, because the aspect of the houses is familiar to us, the streets are as we see them now with but little alteration, though the districts are changed.

came to London first at two years old, but was only here for two years, and did not return again

196

until he was a boy of nine. The family then went to Bayham Street, Camden Town, where the boy was a little family drudge, cleaning boots and running errands, yet his wide topographical acquaintance with London began then, for he often visited two uncles, one at Limehouse, and one in Gerrard Street, Soho, and his wanderings backwards and forwards to these two made a deep impression on his mind. When the family moved to 4 Gower Street North, a new era began. His father was carried to the Marshalsea, and the poor sickly little lad was employed to make bargains with pawnbrokers and to sell books to second-hand dealers. He sank still lower in being put to work in the terrible blacking warehouse so vividly described in David Copperfield. This was at Old Hungerford Stairs, near Hungerford Market, where railway station now is, and the boy in his wanderings during the dinner hour grew familiar with every court and lane in the neighbourhood. The market was then in a dilapidated condition, and was rebuilt seven or eight years subsequently, and ten years before 's death he saw it superseded by the railway station. At the time when the delicate, exquisitely sensitive little boy worked at this toilsome occupation, Northumberland House still stood in its glory; had not been begun, but a network of dirty slums stretched over the ground near the church, and the Royal Mews were still to be seen where the fountains now play.

A little later, at his own earnest request, he was taken from Camden Town, where he had been sent to

197

lodge on the removal of the family from Gower Street, and was allowed to lodge beside the Marshalsea Prison, with which he became thoroughly acquainted. The Marshalsea has now completely vanished, but its site may be known by Angel Court, the first narrow passage north of St. George's Church in the Borough High Street.

When the family were released from the debtors' prison they went to Hampstead, then to Seymour Street, then to Bentinck Street, Manchester Square, while attended an " Academy" in the Hampstead Road as a day boy for nearly two years, and afterwards worked for a while as a clerk in Gray's Inn. Later he was engaged as a reporter at the House of Commons, the old House of Commons, of course, where the Prince's Chamber, the Painted Chamber, the Star Chamber, and St. Stephen's Chapel still formed part of the group of buildings representing the old Palace of . Three years after 's first connection with the House all these were swept away in the Great Fire of . had chambers in Furnival's Inn for a time, on the north side of Holborn. It was not an old fabric, having been rebuilt in , and now it has completely gone, its site being covered by the large red buildings of the Prudential Assurance Company. In he went to Doughty Street (No. 48), close to the Foundling Hospital. He was now a married man with a son; here he remained for two years, and then went to Devonshire Terrace, near the Marylebone Road. found inspiration in the turmoil of the

198

London streets, which has driven many another writer to despair. When he was abroad he literally craved for the streets. "Put me down on Waterloo Bridge at eight o'clock in the evening," he wrote, " with leave to roam about as long as I like, and I would come home, as you know, panting to go on" ; and again at Lausanne he says he finds production at a rapid pace a great difficulty. " I suppose this is partly the effect of two years' ease, and partly of the absence of streets and numbers of figures. I can't express how much I want these. It seems as if they supplied something to my brain which it cannot bear when busy to lose." In he moved into Tavistock House, Tavistock Square, which he sold after ten years, when he made Gadshill, Rochester, his permanent residence.

In his life saw many changes in London; for example, every one of the great London railway stations was built; South Kensington practically came into existence with the great Exhibitions; , as we have said, was made; Barry's wonderful Houses of Parliament rose on the ashes of the old ones; New , , and Shaftesbury Avenue demolished many terrible slums, including the district of Seven Dials, which, though still partly standing, is rendered comparatively harmless by the neighbourhood of broad and respectable thoroughfares. The Fleet Prison and the Marshalsea were abolished. Just before his death the new Law Courts were begun, and many another improvement was made. Abuses were shown up by his vigorous pen, and he himself may be

199

considered the incarnation of the spirit of a time when men began to regard humanity and cleanliness as first principles.

We have been made acquainted with the few selected as representative men of their age, but there remains yet the vast army of those who by birth or adoption have been the children of London, and whose names are associated with dwellings in her streets. What a magnificent host it is : men of letters, statesmen, artists, actors, poets, architects, and others! Even to give representative names is a huge task, and the list below is in no sense intended to be exhaustive or to indicate that there are not variations in ability high as the mountains or deep as the seas. Yet listen to the roll-call of this splendid regiment as it marches past : Camden, Bacon, , Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, Isaac Walton, Cromwell; these by birth belong to the sixteenth century, Cromwell indeed being born only within its last year. Sir Thomas Browne, Evelyn, Dryden, Pepys, Sir Isaac Newton, Strype, Sir Godfrey Kneller, the Duke of Marlborough, Defoe, Swift, Addison, Steele, Gay, Pope, Richardson, Hogarth: these are the contribution of the seventeenth century.

Fielding, Pitt, Hume, Gray, Horace Walpole, Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough, Goldsmith, Burke, Romney, Savage, Fox, Sheridan, Mrs. Siddons, Samuel Rogers, the Duke of Wellington, S. T. Coleridge, Lamb, Turner, Hazlitt, Palmerston, De Quincey, Kean, Byron, Cruikshank, Shelley, Keats, Hood, and Carlyle were born in the eighteenth century, though of course, as in

200

previous lists, those near the end of the century belong by right of their lives to the succeeding one. Macaulay, Lord Lytton, Beaconsfield, Darwin, Thackeray, Browning, Leech, , and Ruskin, not to mention names of living persons, are in the roll-call of the nineteenth.

These lists, as said at the beginning, are not intended to be exhaustive, but show something of the diversity of talent, the splendid record of this the greatest of cities.