it will be the centre of London for him, coming to and going from it in a local acceptance which he cannot help feeling a reciprocal kindliness. He might do this as a mere hotel-dweller, but if he has given hostages to fortune by going into lodgings, and forming even indirect relations with the tradesmen round the corners, the little stationers and newsmen, the nearest bookseller, the intelligent female infants in the post-office (which is always within a minute's walk), and perhaps conversed with the neighboring policeman, or has taken cabs so often from the neighboring rank as to be recognizable to the cabmen, then he is more quickly and thoroughly naturalized in the chosen region. He will be unworthy of many little friendlinesses from his fellow-citizens if he does not like them, and he will miss, in refusing the image of home which is offered him, one of the rarest consolations of exile.

At a distance from London (say as small a distance, in time if not space, as Bath), you will hear it said that everybody is well in London, but in London you will find that the hygienic critics or authorities distinguish. All England, indeed, is divided into parts that are relaxing, and parts that are bracing, and it is not so strange then that London should be likewise subdivided. Mayfair, you will hear, is very bracing, but Belgravia, and more particularly Pimlico, on which it borders, is terribly relaxing. Beyond Pimlico, Chelsea again is bracing, and as for South Kensington it stands to reason that it is bracing because it is very high, almost as high as Mayfair. If you pass from your Pimlico borderland of Belgravia to either of those regions you are certainly not sensible of any sharp ascent, but there is no telling what a gradual rise of eight or ten feet may make in the quality of the air. To the stranger all London seems

a vast level, with perhaps here and there the sort of ground-swell you may note from your car-window in the passage of a Western plain. Ludgate Hill is truly a rise of ground, but Tower Hill is only such a bad eminence as may gloomily lift itself in history irrespective of the actual topography. Such an elevation as our own Murray Hill would be a noticeable height in London, and there are no such noble inequalities as in our up-town streets along the Hudson. All great modern cities love the plain surfaces, and London is not different from Chicago, or Philadelphia, or Paris, or Berlin, or Vienna, or St. Petersburg, or Milan in this; New York is much more mountainous, and Boston is a Sierra Nevada in comparison.

Yet, I suppose there must be something in the superstition that one part of London is more bracing or more relaxing than another, and that there is really, however insensibly, a difference of levels. That difference of temperaments which I have mentioned, seems mostly intimated in the size and age of the houses. They are larger and older in Bloomsbury, where they express a citizen substance and comfort; they are statelier about the parks and squares of Belgravia, which is comparatively a new settlement; but there are more little houses among the grandeurs of Mayfair which is of the same social quality, though many of its streets crossing from Piccadilly have quite gone to shops and family hotels and lodgings. It is more irregular and ancient than Belgravia, and its grandeurs have a more casual air. The historic mansions crowded by the clubs towards Hyde Park Corner, and grouped about the open space into which Piccadilly falters there, or following the park in the flat curve of Park Lane, have not the effect of withdrawal and exclusion of the Belgravian mansions;

beyond which again there is a world of small dwellings of fainter and fainter self-assertion till they fade into the hopeless plebeian unconsciousness of Pimlico, whose endless streets are without beauty or dignity. Yet beyond this lost realm Chelsea redeems itself in a grace of domestic architecture and an atmosphere of æsthetic associations which make it a favorite abode of the tastes as well as the means. Kensington, where you arrive after what seems hopeless straggling through the roaring thoroughfare prolonging the Fleet-and-Strandderived Piccadilly, is of almost equal artistic and literary appeal, but is older and perhaps less actual in its claims upon the cultivated sympathies. In either of these regions the polite American of definite resources might, if banished from the republic, dwell in great material and spiritual comfort; but if he chose Chelsea for his exile, I do not know that I should blame his preference. There he would have the neighborhood of many charming people whom to know for neighbors would add a certain grace to existence, although he might not otherwise know them. Besides he would have, beyond the Thames, the wooded stretch of Battersea Park, if his dwelling, as it very well might, looked out upon the river and across it; and in the distance he would have the roofs and chimneys of that far Southwark, which no one seems anxious to have nearer than, say, the seventeenth century, and yet which being a part of London must be full of perfectly delightful people.

Even if you make-believe that Southwark bears some such relation to London as Jersey City bears to New York (but the image is very imperfect) still New York, you are aware, can never domesticate the Hudson as London has domesticated the Thames. Our river is too vast, too grand, if you will, ever to be redeemed

'from its primitive wildness, much less made an intimate part of the city's life. It may be laced with ferries and bound with all the meshes that commerce can weave with its swift-flying shuttles; it shall be tunnelled and bridged hereafter, again and again, but its mere size will keep it savage, just as a giant, though ever so amiable and good-natured, could not imaginably be civilized as a man of the usual five-foot-six may be. Among rivers the Thames is strictly of the five-foot-six average, and is therefore perfectly proportioned to the little continent of which it is the Amazon or the Mississippi. If it were larger it would make England ridiculous, as Denmark, for instance, is made ridiculous by the sounds and estuaries that sunder it. But the Thames is of just the right size to be held in London's arms, and if it is not for her the graceful plaything that the Seine is for Paris, it is more suited to the practical nature of London. There are, so far as I noted, no whispering poplars planted by the brink of the Thames, but I feel sure that if there were, and there were citizens fishing their years away in their shade, they would sometimes catch a fish, which the life-long anglers in the Seine never do. That forms a great difference, expressive of a lasting difference of character in the two capitals. Along the Thames the trees are planted on the successive Embankments, in a beautiful leafy parkway following its course, broken here and there by public edifices, like the Parliament buildings, but forming a screen mostly uninterrupted, behind which a parade of grandiose hotels does not altogether hide itself from the river. Then the national quality of the English stream is expressed in the succession of bridges which span it. These are uglier than any that cross the Seine; each one, in fact, is uglier than the other, till you come to the

Tower Bridge, which is the ugliest of all. They have a strange fascination, and quickly endear themselves to the stranger who lounges on their parapets and looks down upon the grimy little steamers scuttling under them, or the uncouth barges pushed and pulled over the opacity of the swift puddle. They form also an admirable point for viewing the clumsy craft of all types which the falling tide leaves wallowing in the iridescent slime of the shoals, showing their huge flanks, and resting their blunt snouts on the mud-banks in a slumberous content,

It is seldom that the prospect reveals a vessel of more dignified proportions or presence, though in my drives along one of the Embankments I came upon a steamer of the modest size which we used to think large when we crossed the Atlantic in it, but which might be swung among the small boats from the davits of a latter-day liner. This vessel always had an admiring crowd about it, and I suppose it had some peculiar interest for the public which did not translate itself to me. As far as the more visible commerce of the more sight-seen parts of the Thames is concerned, it is as unimpressive as may be. It has nothing of the dramatic presence of the shipping in the Hudson or the East River, with its light opera touches in the gayly painted Sound and North River steamboats. You must go as far at least as Stepney on the Thames before you begin to realize that London is the largest port, as well as the largest city, in the world.

There are certain characteristics, qualities, of London which I am aware of not calling aright, but which I will call senitments for want of some better word. One of them was the feel of the night-air, especially late in the season, when there was a waste and weariness in it

« VorigeDoorgaan »