Selected Writings of William Sharp, Vol. IV, Literary Geography
THACKERAY-LAND THE lover of Thackeray will at once exclaim, and with some justice, "The literary geography of 'Thackeray' . . . impossible!" "George Eliot was easy for you," such a one may add--"you had only to omit the Florence of Romola and restrict yourself to three counties: the Brontë country will be easy, for except in Villette you will not need to cross the Channel, nor even to linger long in London: Dickens himself was easy, for the ground covered by Nicholas Nickleby or David Copperfield or Martin Chuzzlewit in their beyond-London wanderings is almost as familiar as the home-circuit of Mr. Pickwick, or as the metropolitan background of Bleak House or Little Dorrit--while as for what occurs across the water, the Tale of Two Cities is soon overtaken. Even Walter Scott and Stevenson, for all their pen-wanderings as far overseas as Syria and Samoa, could by skilful loops be lassoed to your service. But how are you to limn the literary geography of Thackeray, unless you at once relinquish any attempt to go beyond Bath and Exeter, or even to stray from London . . . unless, at farthest, to those marine suburbs of Vanity Fair, Brighton and Boulogne?"
True, so far, on both counts. The polar centre of Thackeray-land is that Guest-room in the Reform Club in Pall Mall where the famous portrait by Lawrence still cheers and dignifies the lunching novelist of to-day, still benignly consoles the harassed scribe whose monotonously recurrent nocturne is in three movements--to the Reform Club dinner thence through the cigar-lit valley of dyspepsia, then to the leader-writer's room.
The Thackerayan home-county is London . . . that London bounded by Holland Park on the west, by St. Paul's on the east, by Pimlico on the south: the London whose heart is Pall Mall, whose chief arteries are Piccadilly and St. James's Street, Regent Street, and all that mysterious entity "the West End"--from Jermyn Street to the "beyond Gadira" of those Metropolitan Pillars of Hercules, Tyburn Gate and Knightsbridge. Above all, Thackeray's London consists of Belgravia and Mayfair with Piccadilly as Vanity Fair Avenue. If ever any great writer was a Londoner it was Thackeray. Not Dr. Johnson returning to the Mitre Tavern after those Hebridean experiences . . wherefrom, after too much rain, and too much brose, and too much Boswell, he coined or set his seal upon the opprobrious term , "scotch" to the after satisfaction of all South-Britons and the resentment of all Scots!--nor Charles Lamb warming to the nocturnal glow of the Strand after one of his visits to the Lakeland of his great friends, with whose genius he sympathised, but riot with their taste in exile--nor Dickens, when at Broadstairs the sea and keen air lost their spell, and he would have bartered both with joy for the dirt and noise of Fleet Street--none of these was more truly a Londoner than William Makepeace Thackera, born in Calcutta, a student at Weimar, a newspaper correspondent and happy married man in Paris, a great novelist-in-the-makng at a château in Picardy. We cannot imagine Thackeray country-wed, as was Marian Evans or Charlotte Brontë, or a country man like Walter Scott, a Transatlantic or Samoan exile like Stevenson, a countrydweller like Thomas Hardy, a Surrey recluse like George Meredith. One is apt to think of Charles Dickens as preeminently the Londoner among modern writers. But Dickens, (as he said once), for all that he was as dependent on London as an orphan-suckling on its milk-bottle, lived a great part of his mature life in maritime or inland Kent. True, when he was writing Dombey and Son at Lausanne he yearned for London, not only with the nostalgia born of life-long affection and associations, but with all the longings of the creative artist for the living sources of the imagination. It was, however, the near approach, the intimate touch, that Dickens needed: not to work and sleep and wake in an urban home, nor to lunch regularly at the Reform, nor to dine often at the Garrick, nor enjoy or undergo the social round. But though Thackeray spent some early years in Paris, and travelled east and west, he was ever happiest in London; in absence ever longed to return; never wished to live beyond the frontiers of St. James's Street on the east, of Kensington on the west. That he (or his penself) affixed the cartoon of Punch to the great Pyramid . . . "at nineteen minutes past seven, by the clock of the great minaret at Cairo," if we may take him literally . . . is by no means insignificant. In another sense, Thackeray, when abroad, was continually affixing a cartoon of British superiority, or British badinage, or British indifference, on persons and things and episodes to him distasteful or uncongenial. Even in his maturity, in his most famous work, this tendency was continually indulged, and sometimes offensively, as, for example, in the remarks on foreign "Society" at Rome, in the episode of the final meeting of "Mme. de Rawdon" and Lord Steyne. It is this that more than any other reason makes so much of his early writings, more particularly his travel-papers, so wearisome now, often, alas! so banal. There is no great writer of our time who has committed so much that is commonplace in thought and observation, and commonplace and often jejune in style. Thackeray's name has become a fetish, and if one whisper a contrarious opinion it is to be snubbed with contumely. But the Thackeray of Vanity Fair, of The Newcomes, of Esmond is one person, the Thackeray of a vast amount of indifferent "pot-boiling" is another. If the present writer had not a deep admiration for the author of the three great works named, he would be more chary of such expression of opinion as to so much else of Thackeray's work. A complete indifference could hardly mean other than a serious deficiency in oneself. But to say that one must accept as excellent in kind what one really finds commonplace and outworn, and often perverse and in the worst bourgeois taste, simply because of a great reputation, is to range oneself with those fanatics who (in their infatuation for a name, and not for the achievement per se) would have us accept Count Robert of Paris as masterly because it bears one of the greatest of names as author, or would have us accept Titus Andronicus as great literature because it is (or is by many supposed to be) by Shakespeare, or would have us accept as treasurable all the dross and débris to be found along the starry path of Robert Burns.
Doubtless many a reader will be moved to like reflections if he turn to these much praised travel-sketches of the great author, whose fame by some singular irony seems to grow in proportion as the literary temper and taste of a later day slowly but steadily recede from all in his work related to the occasional and accidental, the accent of the hour, the bygone and the crude. But the topographical Thackerayan will insist now on those two other delightful "Sketch-Books," which also appeared "under the travelling title of Mr.Titmarsh," to quote from the author's dedication of the later of the two to Charles Lever: The Paris Sketch Book and The Irish Sketch Book.
Probably hundreds of Thackeray -admirers, unable to re-peruse with pleasure the long so much belauded, but surely wearisomely overdone and now less regarded Book of Snobs, can turn again with pleasure to these high-spirited and amusing records of days and hours, of persons and things: in Ireland, from the Giant's Causeway to Cork, and from Dublin to Galway; in Paris, from Heaven-knows-what-all, from Caricatures and Melodramas, to George Sand and the New Apocalypse. Nevertheless, it would be absurd to say that in these we have to seek the geography of Thackeray-land. He took his holiday thus once in a way but his own land, the true country ot Thackeray, lies elsewhere--in so far as a novelist whose country is human nature can be restricted at all by the literary geographer. No, let there be peace among the lovers of that immortal work--not even is this land to seek in The Kickleburys on the Rhine, for all the Becky-Sharp-like little ways of "Miss Fanni, la belle Kickleburi," as the enamoured Adolphe spoke of "Miss K." to the philosophic Alphonse; for all that is told of the maturing in wisdom of Lady Kicklebury, . . . who, it will be remembered, was finally brought to admit decisively, if incoherently, "that Shakespeare was very right in stating how much sharper than a thankless tooth it is to have a serpent child"; for all that is set forth concerning Mr. Titmarsh (the real M. Angelo!), Captain Hicks, the mild Mr. Milliken, and "his soul's angel and his adored blessing" Lavinia and her chronic effort to be calm, and all companions of pilgrimage in that celebrated Tour Abroad. And yet who would williingly relinquish such a vignette of natural beauty as that of Deutz and the Drachenfels . . . a fragment radiant with that true Thackerayan light--recognisable ever, whether playing on things or places or persons-which we all love?
"[When I woke up it was Cologne, and it was not sunrise yet.] Deutz lay opposite, and over Deutz the dusky sky was reddened. The hills were veiled in the mist and the grey. The grey river flowed underneath us; the steamers were roosting along the quays, a light keeping watch in the cabins here and there, and its reflections quivering in the water. As I look, the skyline towards the east grows redder and redder. A long troop of grey horsemen winds down the river road, and passes over the bridge of boats. You might take them for ghosts, those grey horsemen, so shadowy do they look; but you hear the trample of their horses' hoofs as they pass over the planks. Every minute the dawn twinkles up into the twilight; and over Deutz the heaven blushes brighter. The quays begin to fill with men; the carts began to creak and rattle, and wake the sleeping echoes. Ding, ding, ding, the steamers' bells begin to ring: the people on board to stir and wake: the lights may be extinguished, and take their turn of sleep: the active boats shake themselves and push out into the river: the great bridge opens, and gives them passage: the church bells of the city begin to clink: the cavalry trumpets blow from the opposite bank: the sailor is at the wheel, the porter at his burden, the soldier at his musket, and the priest at his prayers. . . .
"And lo ! in a flash of crimson splendour, with blazing scarlet clouds running before his chariot, and heralding his majestic approach, God's sun rises upon the world, and all nature wakens and brightens."
In this passage from an early work we have the real Thackeray. It is in all ways characteristic, and would appear still more convincingly so if quoted to its close: for it was Thackeray's liking to conclude even the lightest of his longer writings with a passage of personal emotion, of a sudden tidal eloquence, informed at the close with a note of deep religious feeling. But the actual lines quoted are interesting in that they reveal the author's favourite method in description . . . his aptitude for the salient feature, his instinct for the accumulation of images and facts in short intimately related sentences, and oftenest with the use of the colon. It is interesting, too, as we have in this early developed method and manner of Thackeray in description a prelude to the method and manner of a still greater master of prose; for George Meredith . . . the George Meredith of The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, of Beauchamp's Career, of Sandra Belloni and Vittoria and Diana of the Crossways . . . was in his youth an eager student of Thackeray, and unquestionably was influenced by him more than by any contemporary author except possibly Thomas Love Peacock.
Not, however, that the reader of Thackeray will easily find many like passages, except in the Travel-Sketches --French, Irish, "Cornhill to Cairo," to the later "Little Sketches" from Richmond to Ghent, Brussels, and Waterloo. There is no other great novelist who indulges so seldom in descriptive detail, who so rarely limns his personages or relates their experiences against the background of nature, whether of scenic effect or of the great elemental forces. Thackeray's method is in this respect the extreme contrast to that of the greatest of his contemporaries, Victor Hugo. It is as inconceivable that he could have written any book even dimly approaching Les Travailleurs de la Mer, as it is inconceivable that Victor Hugo could have written such vast meandering tales as Pendennis or The Virginians in the minor key throughout, without a touch of melodrama, without the perpetual background of the natural world and all the elemental forces. Not that we need seek a foreign writer with whom to point the contrast. Thackeray had two great contemporaries at home whose genius recognised and demonstrated the immense imaginative value of "background." Who that remembers some of the most impressive pages in Great Expectations or David Copperfield, or recalls all the mature achievement of the author of Shirley and Jane Eyre and Villette . . . or, it may be added, that book of cloud and wind, of storm-swept moors and storm-tossed hearts, Wuthering Heights--can fail to regret that Thackeray had not with his compeers Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë, that larger vision and deeper intellectual and artistic sentiment which has since been so distinguishing a feature of every great achievement in contemporary imaginative fiction . . . in France from Chateaubriand or Victor Hugo to the author of Les Pêcheurs d'Islande, in Russia from Turgeniév and Tolstoï to Maxim Gorki, in our own country from Walter Scott to Thomas Hardy? It is in all probability, this lack in Thackeray that more than all else accounts for what a recent critic alludes to as "the growing contemporary revolt against his vague discursiveness on the one hand, and his general newspaperiness of method on the other" . . . that is, the method of the journalist who considers the relation of facts and circumstance and conversation to be all in all--or at best to need no more than circumstantial comment.
A really intimate knowledge of his writings, however, would enable one, if not to refute, at any rate greatly to modify, any inference that Thackeray lacked the power to create in "the two worlds that are yet one world." That he can describe in beauty no reader of his earlier writings need be reminded; that, and more and more as he grew older, he became (actually or apparently) artistically indifferent to all save action and motive and the general externals of human life, it would not be easy to disprove. In the writings of his final period, with the exception of a few passages in The Virginians--and, considering the inordinate length of that book, how few these passages are!--it is extraordinary how little stress is laid on or how little note is taken of natural environment or background. Let the reader turn to the three final novels, Lovel the Widower, The Adventures of Philip, and the unfinished Denis Duval, and he will probably concur in this opinion.
In Philip I remember that the charming wife of the hero on their honeymoon in Paris wrote that she and Philip walked home under "a hundred million blazing stars"--and I honestly doubt if in the whole novel there is anything of the kind more detailed! True, I have not looked at the novel in question for some years, till a rapid glance a little while ago in order to verify my quotation; nevertheless, I still abide by my doubt. In this respect it is interesting to contrast three "last works"--each left unfinished--by acknowledged great writers: Denis Duval, Edwin Drood, and Weir of Hermiston. In Denis Duval we are never acutely aware of external nature and the elemental forces of nature; in Edwin Drood the reader feels the influence of both at the outset; in Stevenson's superb fragment we are ever aware of the great loneliness of the Pentland solitudes, of the coming of rain and storm and serene peace, of the magic of moonlight, of the subtle fascination of familiar and yet ever unfamiliar vistas, of the indescribable presence and secret influence of the hillwind-- and all this without for a moment hindering the movement of the drama, without once diverting the reader's rapt attention. No one would be so uncritical as to compare on any other ground two books so different in method, intention, and achievement as Denis Duval and Weir of Hermiston, except that they are thus linked in the accident of fragmentary finality.
In any endeavour, then, to define the literary geography of Thackeray-land it would be necessary to relinquish the idea of a chart of all the divers parts, places, and remote regions between Palestine in the East and Virginia in the West touched upon by Thackeray's facile pen. From Jerusalem to the Rhine, from Athens to Galway Bay, fron Brussels to Baltimore, is too extensive for any topographer to attempt. The Thackerayan lover and student will find his time cut out for him, if he wish to make a chart of all his author's wanderings with the names of every place mentioned in the vast wilderness of his writings! From 1840 to 1860, in these twenty years from Thackeray's thirtieth year to his fiftieth, from the days of the immortal Yellowplush and the first appearance of a Titmarsh and the tale of the Great Hoggarty Diamond, to the close of the great period that culminated in The Newcomes and the advent of the final period that began with The Virginians--in the work of this score of years the would-be geographer will find ample material for a sufficiently bewildering place-puzzle, from the "London, E.C." of the early and repellent Catherine to the little town of Chur in the Grisons in the essay On a Lazy Idle Boy, untimately included in the author's latest completed work, the Roundabout Papers.
But as this is one of the latest-possibly the latest--of Thackeray's few latter-day togographical passages, it must be quoted for the delectation of the present literary geographers:
"I had occasion to spend a week in the autumn in the little old town of Coire or Chur, in the Grisons, where lies buried that very ancient British king, saint, and martyr, Lucius, who founded the Church of St. Peter on Cornhill. . . . The pretty little city stands, so to speak, at the end of the world--of the world of to-day, the world of rapid motion, and rushing railways, and the commerce and intercourse of men. From the northern gate, the iron road stretches away to Zurich, to Basle, to Paris, to home. From the old southern barriers, before which a little river rushes, and around which stretch the crumbling battlements of the ancient town, the road bears the slow diligence or lagging vetturino by the shallow Rhine, through the awful gorges of the Via Mala, and presently over the Splügen to the shores of Como. . . . I have seldom seen a place more quaint, pretty, calm, and pastoral than this remote little Chur. What need have the inhabitants for walls and ramparts, except to build summer-houses, to trail vines, and hang clothes to dry on them? No enemies approach the great mouldering gates: only at morn and even the cows come lowing past them, the village maidens hatter merrily round the fountains, and babble like the ever voluble stream that flows under the old walls . . . a quiet, quaint, pleasant, pretty, old town."*
*This, the first of the Roundabout Papers, was originally the editorial prologue to the new Cornhill--the Cornhill with Thackeray at the helm. Was there ever a more delightful set-off to a new magazine than this charming, sunny, and humorously winsome essay, with all its ingenious allusions to other novelists?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~How characteristic that touch early in this quotation . . . "to Zurich, &c., to home"! That is Thackeray speaking as to a circle of intimates. We can almost imagine him saying Hear, hear! to the mocking adieux of a man whom he would have detested as mercilessly as he would have "scotched" the fantastic vogue of which he was the representative . . . to the "soon we shall see once more the tender grey of the Piccadilly pavement and the subtle music of Old Bond Street will fall furtively upon our ears," of the "tragical buffoon" disguised for us as Esmé Amarinth in the most brilliant satirical comedy given us since the vast drama of Vanity Fair . . . The Green Carnation.
It is no use to think of following Mr. Titmarsh and the Kickleburys to the Rhine, or of tracking Joseph Sedley and Dobbin to Paris, or of "being in at" that famous episode of Miss Rebecca and the Pumpernickel students--still less to pursue that indomitable searcher after the Flesh-pots in her latter-day migrations throughout Europe, from Tours to Töplitz, from St. Petersburg to Boulogne. Of course, if a Thackerayan reader find himself in Brussels he may, with a phantom Henry Esmond, seek the convent-grave of the Soeur Marie Madeleine, once the gay and fashionable Lady Castlewood, and poor Esmond's unhappy mother--or, with a phantom Amelia Sedley, will hold his breath while the darkness of an imaginary night of Waterloo follows the dull echo of the guns, and thousands of other praying or sobbing women await the dread coming of after-battle tidings. If a visitor to Boulognes-sur-Mer, could he possibly omit a stroll to the Château de Brequerecque, where in 1854 Thackeray lived for a time, thinking out and touch by touch creating the most lovable of all his characters, Colonel Thomas Newcome? In Paris, of course, such an one could not possibly be without thought of the Hôtel de la Terrasse, where Becky Sharp lived awhile; without a reminiscence of Terré's Tavern in the Rue Neuve des Petits Champs, immortalised in the Ballad of Bouillabaisse. If perchance, again, such an one be a passing visitor to remoter Strasburg--not a likely place, one would think, for Thackerayan associations! would he not instinctively seek for some prototype of heroic Mary Ancel, or watch a phantom Pierre Ancel riding wearily from the western gate, or feel inclined secretly to identify in some harmless passer- by the treacherous Schneider, that provincial understudy for the great parts of Robespierre and Marat in the terrible Melodrama of the Revolution? In Strasburg of to-day, however, even such an one would look in vain for any possible counterpart to that other gentleman whom the good Pierre first saw in Schneider's room (Schneider, ex-abbé, ex-monk, ex-professor, quondam editor of the Songs of Anacreon, once Royal Chaplain and one of the Illuminati at the capital of Würtemberg--become at last a bloodhound to the bloodstained Directorate of France)--the gentleman with a red night-cap ornamented with "a tricolor cockade as large as a pancake," with a huge pigtail, seated at a greasy wine-stained table, moved to frequent exclamatory grief and bibulous tears by the book he is reading, The Sorrows of Werther, and ever and again ejaculating "O this poor Charlotte!" or "Ah, Brigand " . . . the sentimental gentleman whom Pierre Ancel thought to be a tender-hearted lamb for all his wolf's clothing, but whom Schneider, on his abrupt entrance, thrusts from the room with the significant remark, "You drunken talking fool . . . fourteen people are cooling their heels yonder, waiting until you have finished your beer and your sentiment :
"That fellow," continued Schneider, turning to me "is our public executioner: a capital hand too if he would but keep decent time: but the brute is always drunk, and blubbering over The Sorrows of Werther."
These, and a score--a hundred--other instances, might be adduced; but then a series of maps, not a précis of a London Thackeray-Directory would be needed. Even in our own country the localities to be sought would be far apart as Clevedon Court, in Somersetshire, the beautiful original of the "Castlewood" of Esmond; as Larkbeare House, near Ottery St. Mary in Devon, the early home of Thackeray's mother, and where he spent his holidays as, a boy--a neighbourhood remembered by him later when he was writing Pendennis, where Ottery St. Mary, Sidmouth, and Exeter are alluded to as "Clavering St. Mary,"Baymouth," and "Chatteris"; as the scattered Irish and English county backgrounds in The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Vanity Fair, The Newcomes, Pendennis, Adventures of Philip, Lovel the Widower, &c. &c. . . . from Tunbridge Wells to Taunton, from Brighton to Bath. It would indeed be rash to assert of almost any fairly well-known place that, if not "brought in," it is at least unmentioned in Thackeray's writings. How few readers, for example, would have thought of Strasburg in connection with any Thackerayan romance, long or short? And only the other day, in an article about Thackeray's wide range, its writer stated in effect that Florence was perhaps the only English frequented town, and Rome the only capital, with which Thackeray had no literary dealings in his fiction--evidently oblivious, for one thing, of a certain famous heroine who in Florence kept house for awhile with the unattached Madame de Cruchecassée, or, at a later date, as Madame de Rawdon, met at the Polonia ball in Rome, and for the last time, the great Lord Steyne. Then, again, to take a still more detailed instance, what of the thirty-fifth chapter of The Newcomes?
Brighton, of course, is a place apart: a detached suburb, rather, for is it not Thackeray's "London-by-the-Sea"? For the ardent Thackerayan to visit Brighton without a single reminiscence would be as out of the question as to lunch in the Strangers' Room at the Reform Club and not look at Lawrence's famous portrait of the great man, or dine at the Garrick and have no heed of Durham's massive "bust" or of Sir John Gilbert's charming posthumous portrait. Nowhere more than at Brighton was Thackeray "possessed" by his imaginary personages-though, as he is reported to have said on one occasion, "in London they become almost too actual!" It was from Brighton that (in 1849, when he was thirty-eight, and had suddenly become nationally famous by the publication in book-form of Vanity Fair) he wrote to his friend Mrs. Brookfield, "Being entirely occupied with my two new friends, Mrs. Pendennis and her son Arthur Pendennis, I got up very early again this morning. He is a very goodnatured, generous young fellow, and I begin to like him onsiderably."
It was to the same friend that he wrote on another occasion from Paris: . . "I have been to the Hôtel de la Terrasse, where Becky used to live, and shall pass by Captain Osborne's lodgings. I believe perfectly in all these people, and feel quite an interest in the inn in which they lived."
In London itself I suppose Thackeray enthusiasts were formerly wont to seek more than any other place (for now Godalming claims what was once the glory of Smithfield) the Charterhouse-the Grey Friars of The Newcomes, and for ever now associated with the beloved memory of incomparable Colonel Newcome. Others, perhaps, sought first those "dark alleys, archways, courts and backstairs" of the Middle Temple, so beloved by Thackeray; and in particular Brick Court, and the stairs leading to the chambers once occupied by Goldsmith . . . visiting these no doubt for Thackeray's sake rather than for other associations, though remembering his "I have been many a time in the chambers in the Temple which were his (Goldsmith's), and passed up the staircase, which Johnson and Burke and Reynolds trod to see their friend, their poet, their kind Goldsmith-- the stair on which the poor women sat weeping bitterly when they heard that the greatest and most generous of all men was dead within the black oak door."
For the many who prefer a "favourite-character association "than one more strictly personal, there is ample material indeed. Even the all but omniscient lifelong "cabby" might be puzzled to make his way to all the addresses that could be given him. Even he might go astray in "fare" directed him to Suburbia if his drive from Russell Square (where the ever to-be-remembered Sedleys of Vanity Fair once lived) to that familiar-sounding and yet postally unknown address whither they migrated . . . St. Adelaide's Villas, Anna Maria Road, W.--" where the houses look like baby-houses; where the people, looking out of the first-floor windows must infallibly, as you think, sit with their feet in the parlours; where the shrubs in the little gardens in front bloom with a perennial display of little children's pinafores, little red socks, caps, &c. (polyandria polygynia); whence you hear the sound of jingling spinets and women singing; whither of evenings you see City clerks padding wearily. . . .")
Among the numberless houses, rooms, chambers, &c., connected with the personages of Vanity Fair, The Newcomes, Pendennis, The Adventures of Philip, and so many other writings down to Our Street and Mrs. Perkins' Ball, each Thackerayan reader must select for himself. He may wander as far west as the Brompton boarding-house where Miss Bunion ate her daily breakfast chop, and spent the rest of the day in the composition of The Deadly Nightshade or other of its passionate successors; or may wander into the City and in a counting-house and as a worthy drysalter behold Poseidon Hicks--in his impassioned but highly respectable youth the author of The Death-Shriek and The Bastard of Lara, and later of Idiosyncrasy: in Forty Books, Marat: an Epic, and The Megatheria ("that magnificent contribution to our Pre-adamite literature") and other delicate trifles--a mere Mr. Hicks like one of ourselves, immersed in the commonplace task of checking figures or posting up his ledger. Or he may keep to Central London, and in, Fitzroy Square look up at the house occupied by Colonel Newcome, its black door "cheerfully ornamented in the style of the end of the last century with a funereal urn in the centre above the entry, with garlands and the skulls of rams at each corner"; or may pass through Mayfair and take a glance at Gaunt House, with all its memories of "the wicked markiss," en route to visit trim Major Pendennis breakfasting at his club, occupied as usual with a pile of letters from lords and ladies galore, and scowled at as usual by the envious and unfashionable Glowry. But if something less imposing than a morning club-visit to Major Pendennis, or more reputable than a stroll to the sponging-house in Cursitor Street where Rawdon Crawley "learned life" after the festivities at Gaunt House, be desired, is there not adjacent Curzon Street, where the same gentleman and the immortal Becky "demonstrated to the world the useful and interesting art of living on nothing a year that "narrow but respectable mansion" where Mrs. Rawdon Crawley, who was not given to superfluous admirations, and in whom familiarity ever bred contempt, for the first time had a brief aberration of admiration for her husband, when he suddenly abandoned himself to the bodily chastisement of the Right Honourable the Marquis of Steyne, Lord of the Powder Closet, &c. &c. &c., the event that the (for once) impulsive Becky considered had "ruined" her life.
The quest, as already hinted, might better befit the Wandering Jew, with unlimited time at his disposal! To follow in every detail the vicissitudes of Becky alone would enable the enthusiast to qualify as a prince of European couriers. Where did not Mrs. Rawdon Crawley . . . whether so called, or Mrs. Rawdon, or Madame de Rawdon, or Madame Raudon, or Madame Rebecque &c., &c. . . . not set her wandering foot--from far St. Petersburg and remote Töplitz to neighbouring Boulogne, where, with good Mrs. Newbright, it will be remembered that "Mrs. Becky" worked flannel petticoats for the Quashyboos and cotton night-caps for the Cocoanut Indians, and generally made heroic efforts to seem a spotless dove.
Since Becky's wanderings would alone suffice to defeat the literary geographer, perhaps the wisest thing for the enthusiast in Thackeray-land is to content himself with visiting those places in his beloved London the great novelist himself most loved, and the homes where he lived. The Charterhouse, of wonderful memories, is gone but the Middle Temple remains, the "Garrick" and the "Reform" are as they were. One cannot "begin at the beginning" as children ask of a familiar story, in either sense; for our hero was born at far-away Calcutta, and as to his earliest manhood, with its unfortunate marriage--that belongs to Paris.* But one may start with his first London home, No. 18 Albion Street, Hyde Park, where he came soon after his marriage (on the sudden collapse of The Constitutional) to his mother's house, in fact--and began regular literary work as a contributor to Frasey's, and where his eldest daughter, so well known to all lovers of literature as Mrs. Richmond Ritchie, was born.
Thackeray's first "own home" in London was at 13 Great Coram Street, Brunswick Square, where he resided from 1837 to 1840 (æt. 26-29), and wrote The Paris Sketch-Book and other early efforts, and where was born his second daughter, who became the wife of the late Sir Leslie Stephen. Of greater literary interest is 13 (now 16) Young Street, Kensington, where Thackeray lived from 1846 to 1853, and wrote the greater part of Vanity Fair, Pendennis, and Henry Esmond. A very famous seven years of his life were those when his home was at 36 Onslow Square, South Kensington--"a pleasant, bowery sort of home, looking out upon elm-trees," as Mrs. Richmond Ritchie records. It was here that the new and, for his own sake, too famous Editor of the Cornhill Magazine became the target for many arrows of supplication, which ought to have been shot off against the editorial citadel at Messrs. Smith Elder's; and it was here he wrote the closing chapters of The Newcomes, the famous Lectures on the Four Georges, The Virginians, part of The Adventures of Philip, and some of the Roundabout Papers. "His study," says his daughter, "was over the drawing-room, and looked out upon the elm-trees." Finally, there is the more imposing last home, No. 2 Palace Gardens, Kensington, which he had built for him in 1861 in accordance with his own designs and growing needs; and here, on the day before Christmas of 1863, he died--a man still young in years, as we now compute the average span, but aged by sorrow, prolonged strain, and the ceaseless, nervous expenditure of an over-busy life. At his death Thackeray stood out so great, at his best one can hardly yet say how great, a genius of laughter and tears, that few will deny the aptness of the tribute of one of the homage-bearing poets of a Sister Nation:
And so Hic jacet--that is all
That can be writ or said or sung
Of him who held in such a thrall,
With his melodious gift of Pen and tongue,
Both nations--old and young.
Honour's a hasty word to speak,
But now I say it solemnly and slow
To the one Englishman most like that Greek
Who wrote The Clouds two thousand years ago.