Taverns west of Temple Bar - Henry C Shelley
TAVERNS WEST OF TEMPLE BAR.
Even one short generation ago it would have been difficult to recognize in the Strand of that period any resemblance to the picture of that highway given by Stow at the dawn of the seventeenth century. Much less would it have been possible to recall its aspect in those earlier years when it was literally a strand, that is, a low-lying road by the side of the Thames, stretching from Temple-bar to Charing Cross. On the south side of the thoroughfare were the mansions of bishops and nobles dotted at sparse intervals; on the north was open country. To-day there are even fewer survivals of the past than might have been seen thirty years ago. The wholesale clearance of Holywell Street and the buildings to the north has completely transformed the neighbourhood, while along the southern line of the highway, changes almost equally revolutionary have been carried out. As a consequence the inns and taverns of the Strand and the streets leading therefrom have nearly all been swept away, leaving a modern representative only here and there. Utterly vanished, for example, leaving not a wreck behind, are the Spotted Dog and the Craven Head, two houses more or less associated with the sporting fraternity. The former, indeed, was a favourite haunt of prize-fighters and their backers; the latter was notorious for its host, Robert Hales by name, whose unusual stature--he stood seven feet six inches--enabled him "to look down on all his customers, although he was always civil to them." When the novelty of Hales' physical proportions wore off, and trade declined, a new attraction was provided in the form of a couple of buxom barmaids attired in bloomer costume--importations, so the story goes, from the United States.
A far more ancient and reputable house was the Crown and Anchor which had entrances both on the Strand and Arundel Street. It is referred to by Strype in his edition of Stow, published in 1720, as "a large and curious house, with good rooms and other conveniences," and could boast of associations with Johnson, and Boswell, and Reynolds. Perhaps there was something in the atmosphere of the place which tended to emphasize Johnson's natural argumentativeness; at any rate the Crown and Anchor was the scene of his dispute with Reynolds as to the merits of wine in assisting conversation, and it was here too that he had his famous bout with Dr. Percy. Boswell describes him as being in "remarkable vigour of mind, and eager to exert himself in conversation" on that occasion, and then transcribes the following proof. "He was vehement against old Dr. Mounsey, of Chelsea College, as 'a fellow who swore and talked bawdy.' 'I have been often in his company,' said Dr. Percy, 'and never heard him swear or talk bawdy.' Mr. Davies, who sat next to Dr. Percy, having after this had some conversation with him, made a discovery which in his zeal to pay court to Dr. Johnson, he eagerly proclaimed aloud from the foot of the table: 'Oh, sir, I have found out a very good reason why Dr. Percy never heard Mounsey swear or talk bawdy, for he tells me he never saw him but at the Duke of Northumberland's table.' 'And so, sir,' said Dr. Johnson loudly to Dr. Percy, 'you would shield this man from the charge of swearing and talking bawdy, because he did not do so at the Duke of Northumberland's table. Sir, you might as well tell us that you had seen him hold up his hand at the Old Bailey, and he neither swore nor talked bawdy; or that you had seen him in the cart at Tyburn, and he neither swore nor talked bawdy. And is it thus, sir, that you presume to controvert what I have related?' Dr. Johnson's animadversion was uttered in such a manner, that Dr. Percy seemed to be displeased, and soon after left the company, of which Johnson did not at that time take any notice." Nor did the following morning bring any regret. "Well," said he when Boswell called, "we had good talk." And Boswell's "Yes, sir; you tossed and gored several persons," no doubt gave him much pleasure.
When the Crown and Anchor was rebuilt in 1790 the accommodation of the tavern was materially increased by the erection of a large room suitable for important public occasions and capable of seating upwards of two thousand persons. That room was but eight years old when it was the scene of a remarkable gathering. Those were stirring times politically, largely owing to Fox's change of party and to his adhesion to the cause of electoral reform. Hence the banquet which took place at the Crown and Anchor on January 24th, 1798, in honour of Fox's birthday. The Duke of Norfolk presided over a company numbering fully two thousand persons, and the notable men present included Sheridan and Horne Tooke. The record of the function tells how "Captain Morris"--elder brother of the author of "Kitty Crowder," and a song-writer of some fame in his day--"produced three new songs on the occasion," and how "Mr. Hovell, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Dignum, and several other gentlemen, in the different rooms sang songs applicable to the _fete_." But the ducal chairman's speech and the toasts which followed were the features of the gathering. The former was commendably brief. "We are met," he said, "in a moment of most serious difficulty, to celebrate the birth of a man dear to the friends of freedom. I shall only recall to your memory, that, not twenty years ago, the illustrious George Washington had not more than two thousand men to rally round him when his country was attacked. America is now free. This day full two thousand men are assembled in this place. I leave you to make the application. I propose to you the health of Charles Fox."
Then came the following daring toasts:
"The rights of the people."
"Constitutional redress of the wrongs of the people."
"A speedy and effectual reform in the representation of the people in Parliament."
"The genuine principles of the British constitution."
"The people of Ireland; and may they be speedily restored to the blessings of law and liberty."
And when the chairman's health had been drunk "with three times three," that nobleman concluded his speech of thanks with the words:
"Before I sit down, give me leave to call on you to drink our sovereign's health: 'The majesty of the people.'"
Such "seditious and daring tendencies," as the royalist chronicler of the times described them, could not be overlooked in high quarters, and the result of that gathering at the Crown and Anchor was that the Duke of Norfolk was dismissed from the lord-lieutenancy of the west riding of Yorkshire, and from his regiment in the militia. It would have been a greater punishment could George III have ordered a bath for the indiscreet orator. That particular member of the Howard family had a horror of soap and water, and appears to have been washed only when his servants found him helpless in a drunken stupor. He it was also who complained to Dudley North that he had vainly tried every remedy for rheumatism, to receive the answer, "Pray, my lord, did you ever try a clean shirt?"
In that district of the Strand known as the Adelphi--so called from the pile of buildings erected here in 1768 by the brothers Adam--there still exists an Adelphi Hotel which may well perpetuate the building in which Gibbon found a temporary home in 1787. Ten years earlier it was known as the Adelphi Tavern, and on the thirteenth of January was the scene of an exciting episode. The chief actors in this little drama, which nearly developed into a tragedy, were a Captain Stony and a Mr. Bates, the latter being the editor of _The Morning Post._ It appears that that journal had recently published some paragraphs reflecting on the character of a lady of rank, whose cause, as the sequel will show, Captain Stony had good reason for making his own. Whether the offending editor had been lured to the Adelphi ignorant of what was in store, or whether the angry soldier met him there by accident, does not transpire; the record implies, however, that the couple had a room to themselves in which to settle accounts. The conflict opened with each discharging his pistol at the other, but without effect, which does not speak well for the marksmanship of either. Then they took to their swords, with the result of the captain receiving wounds in the breast and arm and Mr. Bates a thrust in the thigh, clearly demonstrating that at this stage the man of the pen had the better of the man of the sword. And he maintained the advantage. For a little later the editor's weapon "bent and slanted against the captain's breast-bone." On having his attention called to the fact the soldier agreed that Mr. Bates should straighten his blade. At this critical moment, however, while, indeed, the journalist had his sword under his foot, the door of the room was broken open and the combatants separated. "On the Sunday following," so the sequel reads, "Captain Stony was married to the lady in whose behalf he had thus hazarded his life."
Duels were so common in those days that Gibbon probably heard nothing about the fight in the Adelphi when he took rooms there one hot August day in 1787. Besides, he had more important matters to occupy his thoughts. Only six weeks had passed since, between the hours of eleven and twelve at night, he had, in the summer house of his garden at Laussanne, written the last sentence of "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," and now he had arrived in London with the final instalment of the manuscript on which he had bestowed the labour of nearly twenty years. The heightened mood he experienced on the completion of his memorable task may well have persisted to the hour of his arrival in London. Some reflection of that feeling perhaps underlay the jocular announcement of his letter from the Adelphi to Lord Sheffield, wherein he wrote: "INTELLIGENCE EXTRAORDINARY. This day (August the seventh) the celebrated E. G. arrived with a numerous retinue (one servant). We hear that he has brought over from Laussanne the remainder of his History for immediate publication." Gibbon remained at the Adelphi for but a few days, after which the story of the tavern lapses into the happiness which is supposed to accrue from a lack of history.
Before retracing his steps to explore the many interesting thoroughfares which branch off from the Strand, the pilgrim should continue on that highway to its western extremity at Charing Cross. The memory of several famous inns is associated 'with that locality, including the Swan, the Golden Cross, Locket's, and the Rummer. The first named dated from the fifteenth century. It survived sufficiently long to be frequented by Ben Jonson and is the subject of an anecdote told of that poet. Being called upon to make an extemporary grace before King James, and having ended his last line but one with the word "safe," Jonson finished with the words, "God blesse me, and God blesse Raph." The inquisitive monarch naturally wanted to know who Ralph was, and the poet replied that he was "the drawer at the Swanne Taverne by Charing Crosse, who drew him good Canarie." It is feasible to conclude that no small portion of the hundred pounds with which the king rewarded Jonson was expended on that "good Canarie." And perhaps Ralph was not forgotten.
By name, at any rate, the Golden Cross is still in existence, but the present building dates no farther back than 1832. Of Locket's ordinary, however, no present-day representative exists. When Leigh Hunt wrote "The Town" he declared that it was no longer known where it EXACTLY stood, but more recent investigators have discovered that Drummond's banking house covers its site.
As was the case with Pontack's in the city, Locket's was pre-eminently the resort of the "smart set." The prices charged are proof enough of THAT, even though they were not always paid. The case of Sir George Ethrege is one in point. That dissolute dramatist and diplomat of the Restoration period was a frequent customer at Locket's until his debt there became larger than his means to discharge it. Before that catastrophe overtook him he was the principal actor in a lively scene at the tavern. Something or other caused an outbreak of fault-finding one evening, and the commotion brought Mrs. Locket on the scene. "We are all so provoked," said Sir George to the lady, "that even I could find in my heart to pull the nosegay out of your bosom, and throw the flowers in your face."
Nor was that the only humorous threat against Mrs. Locket from the same mouth. Probably because he was so good a customer and an influential man about town, his indebtedness to the ordinary was allowed to mount up until it reached a formidable figure. And then Sir George stopped his visits. Mrs. Locket, however, sent some one to dun him for the money and to threaten him with prosecution. But that did not daunt the wit. He bade the messenger tell Mrs. Locket that he would kiss her if she stirred in the matter. Sir George's command was duly obeyed. It stirred Mrs. Locket to action. Calling for her hood and scarf, and declaring that she would see if "there was any fellow alive that had the impudence," she was about to set out to put the matter to the test when her husband restrained her with his "Pr'ythee, my dear, don't be so rash, you don't know what a man may do in his passion."
It is not difficult to understand how the bill of Sir George Ethrege reached such alarming proportions. "They shall compose you a dish," is a contemporary reference, "no bigger than a saucer, shall come to fifty shillings." And again,
"At Locket's, Brown's, and at Pontack's enquire
What modish kickshaws the nice beaux desire,
What fam'd ragouts, what new invented sallat,
Has best pretensions to regale the palate."
Adam Locket, the founder of the house, lived until about 1688, and was succeeded by his son Edward who was at the head of affairs until 1702. All through the reign of Queen Anne the ordinary flourished, but after her death references to it become scanty and finally it disappeared so completely that Leigh Hunt, as has been said, was in ignorance as to its site.
And Hunt also owned to not knowing the site of another Charing Cross tavern, the Rummer. As a matter of fact that, to modern ear, curiously-named tavern was at first located almost next door to Locket's, whence it was removed to the waterside in 1710 and burnt down in 1750. The memory of the tavern would probably have sunk into oblivion with its charred timbers, save for the accident of its connection with Matthew Prior. For the Rummer was kept by an uncle of the future poet, into whose keeping he is supposed to have fallen on the death of his father. One cannot resist the suspicion that this uncle, Samuel Prior by name, was of a shifty nature. He had serious enemies, that is certain. The best proof of that fact is the announcement he inserted in the _London Gazette_ offering a reward of ten guineas for the discovery of the persons who spread the report that he was in league with the clippers of aoin. Then there is the nephew's portrait, which implies that his tavern-keeping relative was an adept in the tricks of his trade.
"My uncle, rest his soul! when living,
Might have contrived me ways of thriving;
Taught me with cider to replenish
My vats, or ebbing tide of Rhenish;
So, when for hock I drew pricked white-wine,'
Swear't had the flavour, and was right-wine."
Destiny, however, had decided the nephew's fate otherwise. The Earl of Dorset, so the story goes, was at the Rummer with a party one day when a dispute arose over a passage in Horace. Young Prior, then a scholar of Westminster, was called in to decide the point, and so admirably did he do it that the earl immediately undertook to pay his expenses at Cambridge. He, in fact, "spoiled the youth to make a poet." Annotators of Hogarth have pointed out that the scene of his "Night" picture was laid in that district of Charing Cross where Locket's and the Rummer were situated.
Harking back now to Drury Lane the explorer finds himself in the midst of the memories of many daring adventures. The Jacobites who aimed at the dethroning of William III were responsible for one of those episodes. During the absence of that monarch they tried to raise a riot in London on the birthday of the Prince of Wales. Macaulay tells the rest of the story. "They met at a tavern in Drury Lane, and, when hot with wine, sallied forth sword in hand, headed by Porter and Goodman, beat kettledrums, unfurled banners, and began to light bonfires. But the watch, supported by the populace, was too strong for the revellers. They were put to rout: the tavern where they had feasted was sacked by the mob: the ringleaders were apprehended, tried, fined, and imprisoned, but regained their liberty in time to bear a part in a far more criminal design."
Noisy brawls and dark deeds became common in Drury Lane. It was the haunt of such quarrelsome persons as that Captain Fantom, who, coming out of the Horseshoe Tavern late one night, was offended by the loud jingling spurs of a lieutenant he met, and forthwith challenged him to a duel and killed him. And the tavern-keepers of Drury Lane were not always model citizens. There was that Jack Grimes, for example, whose death in Holland in 1769 recalled the circumstance that he was known as "Lawyer Grimes," and formerly kept the Nag's Head Tavern in Princes' Street, Drury Lane, "and was transported several years ago for fourteen years, for receiving fish, knowing them to be stolen." There is, however, one relieving touch in the tavern history of this thoroughfare. One of its houses of public entertainment was the meeting-place of a club of virtuosi, for whose club-room Louis Laguerre, the French painter who settled in London in 1683, designed and executed a Bacchanalian procession. This was the artist who was coupled with Verrio in Pope's depreciatory line,
"Where sprawl the Saints of Verrio and Laguerre."
Poets and prose writers alike were wont to agree in giving Catherine Street an unenviable reputation. Gay is specially outspoken in his description of that thoroughfare and the class by which it used to be haunted. It was in this street, too, that Jessop's once flourished, "the most disreputable night house of London." That nest of iniquity, however, has long been cleared away, and there are no means of identifying that tavern of which Boswell speaks. He describes it, on the authority of Dr. Johnson, as a "pretty good tavern, where very good company met in an evening, and each man called for his own half-pint of wine, or gill if he pleased; they were frugal men, and nobody paid but for what he himself drank. The house furnished no supper; but a woman attended with mutton pies, which anybody might purchase."
If the testimony of Pope is to be trusted, the cuisine of the Bedford Head, which was described in 1736 as "a noted tavern for eating, drinking, and gaming, in Southampton Street, Covent Garden," was decidedly out of the ordinary. In his imitation of the second satire of Horace he makes Oldfield, the notorious glutton who exhausted a fortune of fifteen hundred pounds a year in the "simple luxury of good eating," declare,
"Let me extol a Cat, on oysters fed,
I'll have a party at the Bedford-head."
And in another poem he asks,
"When sharp with hunger, scorn you to be fed,
Except on pea-chicks at the Bedford-head?"
There is an earlier reference to this house than the one cited above, for an advertisement of June, 1716, alludes to it as "the Duke of Bedford's Head Tavern in Southampton Street, Covent Garden." Perhaps the most notable event in its history was it being the scene of an abortive attempt to repeat in 1741 that glorification of Admiral Vernon which was a great success in 1740. That seaman, it will be remembered, had in 1739 kept his promise to capture Porto Bello with a squadron of but six ships. That the capture was effected with the loss of but seven men made the admiral a popular hero, and in the following year his birthday was celebrated in London with great acclaim. But in 1740 his attempt to seize Cartagena ended in complete failure, and another enterprise against Santiago came to a similar result. All this, however, did not daunt his personal friends, who wished to engineer another demonstration in Vernon's honour. Horace Walpole tells how the attempt failed. "I believe I told you," he wrote to one of his friends, "that Vernon's birthday passed quietly, but it was not designed to be pacific; for at twelve at night, eight gentlemen dressed like sailors, and masked, went round Covent Garden with a drum beating for a volunteer mob; but it did not take; and they retired to a great supper that was prepared for them at the Bedford Head, and ordered by Whitehead, the author of 'Manners.'" At a later date it was the meeting-place of a club to which John Wilkes belonged.
In all London there is probably no thoroughfare of equal brief length which can boast so many deeply interesting associations as Maiden Lane, which stretches between Southampton and Bedford Streets in the vicinity of Covent Garden. Andrew Marvell had lodgings here in 1677; Voltaire made it his headquarters on his visit to London in 1727; it was the scene of the birth of Joseph Mallord William Turner in 1775; and while one tavern was the rendezvous of the conspirators against the life of William III, another was the favourite haunt of Richard Porson, than whom there is hardly a more illustrious name in the annals of English classical scholarship.
While the name of the conspirators' tavern is not mentioned by Macaulay, that frequented by Porson had wide fame under the sign of the Cider Cellars. It had been better for the great scholar's health had nothing but cider been sold therein. But that would hardly have suited his tastes. It is a kindly judgment which asserts that he would have achieved far more than he actually did "if the sobriety of his life had been equal to the honesty and truthfulness of his character." All accounts agree that the charms of his society in such gatherings as those at the Cider Cellars were irresistible. "Nothing," was the testimony of one friend, "could be more gratifying than a tete-r-tete with him; his recitations from Shakespeare, and his ingenious etymologies and dissertations on the roots of the English language were a high treat." And another declares that nothing "came amiss to his memory; he would set a child right in his twopenny fable-book, repeat the whole of the moral tale of the Dean of Badajos, or a page of Athencus on cups, or Eustathius on Homer." One anecdote tells of his repeating the "Rape of the Lock," making observations as he went on, and noting the various readings. And an intimate friend records the following incident connected with the tavern he held most in regard. "I have heard Professor Porson at the Cider Cellars in Maiden Lane recite from memory to delighted listeners the whole of Anstey's 'Pleaders' Guide.' He concluded by relating that when buying a copy of it and complaining that the price was very high, the bookseller said, 'Yes, sir, but you know Law books are always very dear.'"
Somewhat earlier than Porson's day another convivial soul haunted this neighbourhood. This was George Alexander Stevens, the strolling player who eventually attained a place in the company of Covent Garden theatre. He was an indifferent actor but an excellent lecturer. One of his discourses, a lecture on Heads, was immensely popular in England, and not less so in Boston and Philadelphia. Prior to the affluence which he won by his lecture tours he had frequently to do "penance in jail for the debts of the tavern." He was, as Campbell says, a leading member of all the great Bacchanalian clubs of his day, and had no mean gift in writing songs in praise of hard drinking. One of these deserves a better fate than the oblivion into which it has fallen, and may be cited here as eminently descriptive of the scenes enacted nightly in such a resort as the Cider Cellars.
"Contented I am, and contented I'll be,
For what can this world more afford,
Than a lass that will sociably sit on my knee,
And a cellar as sociably stored.
My brave boys.
"My vault door is open, descend and improve,
That cask,--ay, that will we try.
'Tis as rich to the taste as the lips of your love,
And as bright as her cheeks to the eye:
My brave boys.
"In a piece of slit hoop, see my candle is stuck,
'Twill light us each bottle to hand;
The foot of my glass for the purpose I broke,
As I hate that a bumper should stand,
My brave boys.
"Astride on a butt, as a butt should be strod,
I gallop the brusher along;
Like a grape-blessing Bacchus, the good fellow's god,
And a sentiment give, or a song,
My brave boys.
"We are dry where we sit, though the coying drops seem
With pearls the moist walls to emboss;
From the arch mouldy cobwebs in gothic taste stream,
Like stucco-work cut out of moss:
My brave boys.
"When the lamp is brimful, how the taper flame shines,
Which, when moisture is wanting, decays;
Replenish the lamp of my life with rich wines,
Or else there's an end of my blaze,
My brave boys.
"Sound those pipes, they're in tune, and those bins are well fill'd;
View that heap of old Hock in your rear;
'Yon bottles are Burgundy! mark how they're pil'd,
Like artillery, tier over tier,
My brave boys.
"My cellar's my camp, and my soldiers my flasks,
All gloriously rang'd in review;
When I cast my eyes round, I consider my casks
As kingdoms I've yet to subdue,
My brave boys.
"Like Macedon's Madman, my glass I'll enjoy,
Defying hyp, gravel, or gout;
He cried when he had no more worlds to destroy,
I'll weep when my liquor is out,
My brave boys.
"On their stumps some have fought, and as stoutly will I,
When reeling, I roll on the floor;
Then my legs must be lost, so I'll drink as I lie,
And dare the best Buck to do more,
My brave boys.
"Tis my will when I die, not a tear shall be shed,
No _Hic Jacet_ be cut on my stone;
But pour on my coffin a bottle of red,
And say that his drinking is done,
My brave boys."
Although to-day celebrated chiefly for being the central clearing-house for the flower, fruit and vegetable supply of London, Covent Garden as a whole can vie with any other district of the British capital in wealth of interesting association. The market itself dates from the middle of the seventeenth century, but the area was constituted a parish a few years earlier. By that time, however, it could boast many town residences of the nobility, and several inns. One of these has its name preserved only in the records of the House of Lords, in a letter from a John Button at Amsterdam, who wrote to his brother "with Mr. Wm. Wayte, at the sign of the Horseshoe, Covent Garden." But the taverns of greater note, such as Chatelaine's, the Fleece, the Rose, the Hummums, and Macklin's ill-fated ordinary, belong to more recent times.
Which of these houses was first established it would be hard to say. There can be no question, however, that Chatelaine's ordinary was in great repute during the reign of Charles II, and that it continued in high favour throughout the latter years of the seventeenth century. Pepys alludes to it in 1667 and again in his entries of the following year. On the second occasion his visit interfered with toothsome purchases he was making for a dinner at his own house. "To the fishmonger's, and bought a couple of lobsters, and over to the 'sparagus garden, thinking to have met Mr. Pierce, and his wife, and Knipp; but met their servant coming to bring me to Chatelin's, the French house, in Covent Garden, and there with musick and good company, Manuel and his wife, and one Swaddle, a clerk of Lord Arlington's, who dances, and speaks French well, but got drunk, and was then troublesome, and here mighty merry till ten at night. This night the Duke of Monmouth and a great many blades were at Chatelin's, and I left them there, with a hackney-coach attending him." This was a different experience than fell to the lot of Pepys on the previous occasion, for he tells how the dinner cost the party eight shillings and sixpence apiece, and it was "a base dinner, which did not please us at all." The ordinary was evidently in the same class as Pontack's and Locket's, as may be inferred from it being classed with the latter in one contemporary reference:
"Next these we welcome such as firstly dine
At Locket's, at Gifford's, or with Shataline."
Allusions in the plays of the period also show it was the resort of those who thought quite as much of spending money as of eating. Thus Shadwell makes one of his characters say of another who had risen in life that he was "one that the other day could eat but one meal a day, and that at a threepenny ordinary, now struts in state and talks of nothing but Shattelin's and Lefrond's." And another dramatist throws some light on the character of its frequenters by the remark, "Come, prettie, let's go dine at Chateline's, and there I'll tell you my whole business."
Far less fashionable was the Fleece tavern, where Pepys found pleasant entertainment on several occasions. His earliest reference to the house is in his account of meeting two gentlemen who told him how a Scottish knight was "killed basely the other day at the Fleece," but that tale did not prevent him from visiting the tavern himself. Along with a "Captain Cuttle" and two others he went thither to drink, and "there we spent till four o'clock, telling stories of Algiers, and the manner of life of slaves there." And then he tells how one night he dropped in at the Opera for the last act "and there found Mr. Sanchy and Mrs. Mary Archer, sister to the fair Betty, whom I did admire at Cambridge, and thence took them to the Fleece in Covent Garden; but Mr. Sanchy could not by any argument get his lady to trust herself with him into the taverne, which he was much troubled at."
Equally lively reputations were enjoyed by the Rose and the Hummums. The former was conveniently situated for first-nighters at the King's Playhouse, as Pepys found on a May midday in 1668. Anxious to see the first performance of Sir Charles Sedley's new play, which had been long awaited with great expectation, he got to the theatre at noon, only to find the doors not yet open. Gaining admission shortly after he seems to have been content to sit for a while and watch the gathering audience. But eventually the pangs of hunger mastered him, and so, getting a boy to keep his place, he slipped out to "the Rose Tavern, and there got half a breast of mutton off the spit, and dined all alone." Twenty years later the vicinity of the Rose gained an unenviable reputation. "A man could not go from the Rose Tavern to the Piazza once, but he must venture his life twice." And it maintained that reputation well into the next century, growing ever more and more in favour with the gamblers and rufflers of the times. It was at the bar of this house that Hildebrand Horden, an actor of talent and one who promised to win a great name, was killed in a brawl. Colley Cibber tells that he was exceedingly handsome, and that before he was buried "it was observable that two or three days together several of the fair sex, well dressed, came in masks, and some in their own coaches, to visit the theatrical hero in his shroud."
To the student of etymology the name of the Hummums tells its own tale. The word is a near approach to the Arabic "Hammam," meaning a hot bath, and hence implies an establishment for bathing in the Oriental manner. The tavern in Covent Garden bearing that name was one of the first bathing establishments founded in England, and the fact that it introduced a method of ablution which had its origin in a country of slavery prompted Leigh Hunt to reflect that Englishmen need not have wondered how Eastern nations could endure their servitude. "This is one of the secrets by which they endure it. A free man in a dirty skin is not in so fit a state to endure existence as a slave with a clean one; because nature insists that a due attention to the clay which our souls inhabit shall be the first requisite to the comfort of the inhabitant. Let us not get rid of our freedom; let us teach it rather to those that want it; but let such of us as have them, by all means get rid of our dirty skins. There is now a moral and intellectual commerce among mankind, as well as an interchange of inferior goods; we should send freedom to Turkey as well as clocks and watches, and import not only figs, but a fine state of pores."
John Wolcot, the satirist to whom, as Peter Pindar, nothing was sacred, and who surely had more accomplishments to fall back upon than ever poet had before, having been in turns doctor, clergyman, politician and painter, found a congenial resort at the Hummums when he established himself in London. He preserved the memory of the house in verse, but it is an open question whether his reflections on the horrible sounds of which he complains should be referred to Covent Garden or to the city he had abandoned.
"In Covent Garden at the Hummums, now
I sit, but after many a curse and vow,
Never to see the madding City more;
Where barrows truckling o'er the pavement roll:
And, what is sorrow to a tuneful soul,
Where asses, asses greeting, love songs roar:
Which asses, that the Garden square adorn,
Must lark-like be the heralds of my morn."
Those love songs have not ceased in Covent Garden; the amorous duets are to be heard to this day from the throats of countless costermongers' donkeys. But they disturb Peter Pindar's tuneful soul no more as he lies in his grave near by.
It would be a grave injustice to the Hummums to overlook the fact that it possessed a ghost-story of its own. Its subject was Dr. Johnson's cousin, the Parson Ford "in whom both talents and good dispositions were disgraced by licentiousness," and the story was told to Boswell by Johnson himself. "A waiter at the Hummums," Johnson said, "in which house Ford died, had been absent for some time, and returned, not knowing that Ford was dead. Going down to the cellar, according to the story, he met him; going down again, he met him a second time. When he came up he asked some of the people of the house what Ford could be doing there. They told him Ford was dead. The waiter took a fever, in which he lay for some time. When he recovered, he said he had a message to deliver to some women from Ford; but he was not to tell what or to whom. He walked out; he was followed; but somewhere about St. Paul's they lost him. He came back and said he had delivered it, and the women exclaimed, 'Then we are all undone!' Dr. Pellet, who was not a credulous man, inquired into the truth of this story, and he said the evidence was irresistible." A tantalizing ghost-story this, and one that begets regret that the Society for Psychical Research did not enter on its labours a century or so earlier.
One other tavern, or ordinary, of unusual interest spent its brief career of less than a year under the Piazza of Covent Garden. It was the experiment of Charles Macklin, an eighteenth century actor of undoubted talent and just as undoubted conceit and eccentricity. He had reached rather more than the midway of his long life--he was certainly ninety-seven when he died and may have been a hundred--when he resolved to leave the stage and carry out an idea over which he had long ruminated. 'This was nothing less than the establishment of what he grandiloquently called the British Institution.
So much in earnest was Macklin that he accepted a farewell benefit at Drury Lane theatre, at which he recited a good-bye prologue commending his daughter to the favour of playgoers. In the greenroom that night, when regrets were expressed at the loss of so admirable an actor, Foote remarked, "You need not fear; he will first break in business, and then break his word." And Foote did not a little to make his prophecy come true. For a part of Macklin's scheme, whereby he was to instruct the public and fill his own pockets at the same time, was a lecture-room on the "plan of the ancient Greek, Roman, and Modern French and Italian Societies of liberal investigation." Macklin appointed himself the instructor in chief, and there was hardly a subject under the sun upon which he was not prepared to enlighten the British public at the moderate price of "one shilling each person." The first two or three lectures were a success. Then the novelty wore off and opposition began. Foote set up a rival oratory and devoted himself to the simple task of burlesquing that of Macklin. He would impersonate Macklin in his armchair, examining a pupil in classics after this fashion.
"Well, sir, did you ever hear of Aristophanes?"
"Yes, sir; a Greek Dramatist, who wrote--"
"Ay; but I have got twenty comedies in these drawers, worth his _CLOUDS_ and stuff. Do you know anything of Cicero?"
"A celebrated Orator of Rome, who in the polished and persuasive is considered a master in his art."
"Yes, yes; but I'll be bound he couldn't teach Elocution."
Of course all this raillery was more attractive to the public than Macklin's serious and pedagogic dissertations. The result may be imagined. Foote's oratory was crowded; Macklin's empty.
But that was not the worst. Another feature of the British Institution was the establishment of the ordinary aforesaid. The prospectus of the Institution bore this notice: "There is a public ordinary every day at four o'clock, price three shillings. Each person to drink port, claret, or whatever liquor he shall choose." A disastrous precursor of the free lunch this would seem. And so it proved. But not immediately. Attracted by the novelty of having a famous actor for host, the ordinary went swimmingly for a time. Macklin presided in person. As soon as the door of the room was shut--a bell rang for five minutes, a further ten minutes' grace was given, and then no more were admitted--the late actor bore in the first dish and then took his place at the elaborate sideboard to superintend further operations. Dinner over, and the bottles and glasses placed on the table, "Macklin, quitting his former situation, walked gravely up to the front of the table and hoped 'that all things were found agreeable;' after which he passed the bell-rope round the chair of the person who happened to sit at the head of the table, and, making a low bow at the door, retired." He retired to read over the notes of the lecture he had prepared for these same guests, and during his absence for the rest of the evening his waiters and cooks seized the opportunity to reap their harvest. The sequel of the tale was soon told in the bankruptcy court, and Macklin went back to the stage, as Foote said he would. And now he lies peacefully enough in his grave in the Covent Garden St. Paul's, within stone's throw of the scene where he tried to be a tavern-keeper and failed.