« VorigeDoorgaan »
When they want it they will have it; but until they do, it may not be for nothing, or even for the control of the members' wandering fancies, that the House of Commons interposes between them and itself the grille through which they show like beauteous wraiths or frescoes in the flat. That screen is emblematic of their real exclusion from the higher government which their social participation in parliamentary elections, and the men's habit of talking politics with them, flatter them into a delusive sense of sharing. A woman may be the queen of England, but she may not be one of its legislators. That must be because women like being queens and do not really care for being legislators.
HE secular intensification of the family life makes
it possible for the English to abandon their secular domesticity, when they will, without apparent detriment to the family life. Formerly the English family which came up to London for the season or a part of it went into a house of its own, or, in default of that, went into lodgings, or into a hotel of a kind happily obsolescent. Such a family now frankly goes into one of the hotels which abound in London, of a type combining more of the Continental and American features than the traits of the old English hotel, which was dark, cold, grim, and silently rapacious, heavy in appointments and unwholesome in refection. The new sort of hotel is apt to be large, but it is of all sizes, and it offers a home reasonably cheerful on inclusive terms not at all ruinous. It has a table-d'hôte dinner at separate tables and a fair version of the French cuisine. If it is one of the more expensive, it will not be dearer than our dearest, and if one of the cheaper, it will be better in every way than our cheaper. The supply has created a demand which apparently did not exist before, and the Englishman has become a hotel-dweller, or at least a hotel-sojourner, such as he had long reproached the American with being.
In like manner, with the supply of good restaurants
in great number and variety, he has become a diner and luncher at restaurants. Whether he has been able to exact as much as he really wanted of the privacy once supposed so dear to him, a stranger, even of the middle species, cannot say, but it is evident that at his hotel or his restaurant he dines or lunches as publicly as ever the American did or does; and he has his friends to dinner or lunch without pretence to a private dining-room. One hears that this sort of open conviviality tempts by its facility to those excesses of hospitality which are such a drain on English incomes; but again that is something of which an outsider can hardly venture to have an opinion. What is probably certain is that the modern hotel and restaurant, with their cheerful ease, are pushing the old-fashioned lodging as well as the old-fashioned hotel out of the general favor, and have already driven them to combine their attractions or repulsions on a level where they are scarcely distinguishable as separate species.
In the side streets neighboring Piccadilly there are many apartments which are effectively small hotels, where you pay a certain price for your rooms, and a certain fixed price for your meals. You must leave this neighborhood if you want the true lodging where you pay for your apartment, and order the provisions which are cooked for you, and which are apportioned to your daily needs. This is the ideal, and it is not seriously affected by the reality that your provisions are also apportioned to the needs of your landlord's family. Even then, the ideal remains beautiful, and you have an image, somewhat blurred and battered, of home, such as money cannot elsewhere buy you. If your landlord is the butler who has married the cook, your valeting and cooking approach as nearly perfection as you can hopefully demand.
It will be well not to scan too closely the infirmities of the appointments over which an air of decent reticence is cast, and it will have been quite useless to try guarding all the points at which you might be plundered. The result is more vexatious than ruinous, and perhaps in a hotel also you would be plundered. In a lodging you are promptly and respectfully personalized; your tastes are consulted, if not gratified; your minor wants, in which your comfort lies, are interpreted, and possibly there grows up round you the semblance, which is not altogether deceitful, of your own house.
The theory is admirable, but I think the system is in decay, though to say this is something like accusing the stability of the Constitution. Possibly if some American ghost were to revisit a well-known London street a hundred years from now, he would find it still with the legend of "Apartments" in every transom; and it must not be supposed that lodgings have by any means fallen wholly to the middle, much less the lower middle, classes. In one place there was a marquis overhead; in another there was a lordship of unascertained degree, who was heard on a court night being got ready by his valet and the landlord's whole force, and then marking his descent to his cab by the clanking of his sword upon the stairs, after which the joint service spent a good part of the night in celebrating the event at a banquet in the basement. At two lodgings in a most unpretentious street, it was the landlords' boast that a royal princess had taken tea with their tenants, who were of the quality to be rightfully taken tea with by a royal princess; and at certain hours of the afternoon during the season it was not uncommon to see noble equipages standing at the doors of certain apartments with a full equipment of coachmen and foot
men, and ladies of unmistakable fashion ascending and descending by the carriage - steps like the angels on Jacob's ladder. It could be surmised that they were visiting poor relations, or modest merit of some sort, but it was not necessary to suppose this, and upon the whole I prefer not.
The search for lodgings, which began before the season was conscious of itself, was its own reward in the pleasures it yielded to the student of human nature and the lover of mild adventure. The belief in lodgings was a survival from an age of faith, when in the early eighteen-eighties they seemed the most commodious and desirable refuge to the outwandering American family which then first proved them. The fragmentary outwanderers who now visited London, after an absence of twenty-two years, did not take into account the fact that their apartment of long ago was the fine event of the search, prolonged for weeks, by two friends, singularly intelligent and deeply versed in London; they took it as a type, and expected to drive directly to its fellow. They drove indirectly to unnumbered lodgings unlike it and unworthy of its memory, and it was not until after three days that they were able to fix upon a lodging that appeared the least remote from their ideal. Then, in a street not too far from Mayfair, and of the quality of a self-respectful dependant of Belgravia, they set up their breathless Lares and panting Penates, and settled down with a sense of comfort that grew upon them day by day. The place undeniably had its charm, if not its merit. The drawing-room chairs were in a proper pattern of brocade, and, though abraded at their edges and corners, were of a tasteful frame; the armchairs, covered like the sofa in a cheerful cretonne, lent the parting guest the help of an outward incline; the