My Arrival in London; Madame Cornelis — I Am Presented at Court — I Rent a Furnished House — I Make a Large Circle of Acquaintance — Manners of the English
When I got to Calais I consigned my post-chaise to the care of the landlord of the inn, and hired a packet. There was only one available for a private party, there being another for public use at six francs apiece. I paid six guineas in advance, taking care to get a proper receipt, for I knew that at Calais a man finds himself in an awkward position if he is unable to support his claim by documents.
Before the tide was out Clairmont got all my belongings on board, and I ordered my supper. The landlord told me that louis were not current in England, and offered to give me guineas in exchange for mine; but I was surprised when I found he gave me the same number of guineas as I had given him of louis. I wanted him to take the difference — four per cent. — but he refused, saying that he did not allow anything when the English gave him guineas for louis. I do not know whether he found his system a profitable one on the whole, but it was certainly so for me.
The young Count d’Aranda, to whom I had restored his humble name of Trenti, was quite resigned, but proud of having given me a specimen of his knowingness by riding post. We were just going to sit down at table, well pleased with one another, when I heard a loud conversation in English going on near my door, and mine host came in to tell me what it was about.
“It’s the courier of the Duke of Bedford, the English ambassador,” said he; “he announces the approach of his master, and is disputing with the captain of the packet. He says he hired the boat by letter, and that the captain had no right to let it to you. The master maintains that he has received no such letter, and no one can prove that he is telling a lie.”
I congratulated myself on having taken the packet and paid the earnest-money, and went to bed. At day-break the landlord said that the ambassador had arrived at midnight, and that his man wanted to see me.
He came in and told me that the nobleman, his master, was in a great hurry to get to London, and that I should oblige him very much by yielding the boat to him.
I did not answer a word, but wrote a note which ran as follows:
“My lord duke may dispose of the whole of the packet, with the exception of the space necessary for my own accommodation, that of two other persons, and my luggage. I am delighted to have the opportunity of obliging the English ambassador.”
The valet took the note, and returned to thank me on behalf of his master, who stipulated, however, that he should be allowed to pay for the packet.
“Tell him that it is out of the question, as the boat is paid for already.”
“He will give you the six guineas”
“Tell your master that I cannot allow him to pay. I do not buy to sell again.”
The duke called on me in the course of half an hour, and said that we were both of us in the right.
“However,” he added, “there is a middle course, let us adopt it, and I shall be just as much indebted to you.”
“What is that, my lord?”
“We will each pay half.”
“My desire to oblige you, my lord, will not allow me to refuse, but it is I who will be indebted to you for the honour your lordship does me. We will start as soon as you like, and I can make my arrangements accordingly.”
He shook my hand and left the room, and when he had gone I found three guineas on the table. He had placed them there without my noticing them. An hour afterwards I returned his call, and then told the master to take the duke and his carriages on board.
We took two hours and a half in crossing the Channel; the wind was strong, but we made a good passage.
The stranger who sets his foot on English soil has need of a good deal of patience. The custom-house officials made a minute, vexatious and even an impertinent perquisition; but as the duke and ambassador had to submit, I thought it best to follow his example; besides, resistance would be useless. The Englishman, who prides himself on his strict adherence to the law of the land, is curt and rude in his manner, and the English officials cannot be compared to the French, who know how to combine politeness with the exercise of their rights.
English is different in every respect from the rest of Europe; even the country has a different aspect, and the water of the Thames has a taste peculiar to itself. Everything has its own characteristics, and the fish, cattle, horses, men, and women are of a type not found in any other land. Their manner of living is wholly different from that of other countries, especially their cookery. The most striking feature in their character is their national pride; they exalt themselves above all other nations.
My attention was attracted by the universal cleanliness, the beauty of the country, the goodness of the roads, the reasonable charges for posting, the quickness of the horses, although they never go beyond a trot; and lastly, the construction of the towns on the Dover road; Canterbury and Rochester for instance, though large and populous, are like long passages; they are all length and no breadth.
We got to London in the evening and stopped at the house of Madame Cornelis, as Therese called herself. She was originally married to an actor named Imer, then to the dancer Pompeati, who committed suicide at Venice by ripping up his stomach with a razor.
In Holland she had been known as Madame Trenti, but at London she had taken the name of her lover Cornelius Rigerboos, whom she had contrived to ruin.
She lived in Soho Square, almost facing the house of the Venetian ambassador. When I arrived I followed the instructions I had received in her last letter. I left her son in the carriage, and sent up my name, expecting she would fly to meet me; but the porter told me to wait, and in a few minutes a servant in grand livery brought me a note in which Madame Cornelis asked me to get down at the house to which her servant would conduct me. I thought this rather strange behaviour, but still she might have her reasons for acting in this manner, so I did not let my indignation appear. When we got to the house, a fat woman named Rancour, and two servants, welcomed us, or rather welcomed my young friend; for the lady embraced him, told him how glad she was to see him, and did not appear to be aware of my existence.
Our trunks were taken in, and Madame Rancour having ascertained which belonged to Cornelis, had them placed in a fine suite of three rooms, and said, pointing out to him the apartment and the two servants,
“This apartment and the two servants are for you, and I, too, am your most humble servant.”
Clairmont told me that he had put my things in a room which communicated with Cornelis’s. I went to inspect it, and saw djrectly that I was being treated as if I were a person of no consequence. The storm of anger was gathering, but wonderful to relate, I subdued myself, and did not say a word.
“Where is your room?” I said to Clairmont.
“Near the roof, and I am to share it with one of those two louts you saw.”
The worthy Clairmont, who knew my disposition, was surprised at the calm with which I said —
“Take your trunk there.”
“Shall I open yours?”
“No. We will see what can be done to-morrow.”
I still kept on my mask, and returned to the room of the young gentleman who seemed to be considered as my master. I found him listening with a foolish stare to Madame Rancour, who was telling him of the splendid position his mother occupied, her great enterprise, her immense credit, the splendid house she had built, her thirty- three servants, her two secretaries, her six horses, her country house, etc., etc.
“How is my sister Sophie?” said the young gentleman.
“Her name is Sophie, is it? She is only known as Miss Cornelis. She is a beauty, a perfect prodigy, she plays at sight on several instruments, dances like Terpsichore, speaks English, French, and Italian equally well — in a word, she is really wonderful. She has a governess and a maid. Unfortunately, she is rather short for her age; she is eight.”
She was ten, but as Madame Rancour was not speaking to me I refrained from interrupting her.
My lord Cornelis, who felt very tired, asked at what hour they were to sup.
“At ten o’clock and not before,” said the duenna, “for Madame Cornelis is always engaged till then. She is always with her lawyer, on account of an important law-suit she has against Sir Frederick Fermer.”
I could see that I should learn nothing worth learning by listening to the woman’s gossip, so I took my hat and cane and went for a walk in the immense city, taking care not to lose my way.
It was seven o’clock when I went out, and a quarter of an hour after, seeing a number of people in a coffeehouse, I entered it. It was the most notorious place in London, the resort of all the rascally Italians in town. I had heard of it at Lyons, and had taken a firm resolve never to set foot in it, but almighty chance made me go there unknown to myself. But it was my only visit.
I sat down by myself and called for a glass of lemonade, and before long a man came and sat by me to profit by the light. He had a printed paper in his hand, and I could see that the words were Italian. He had a pencil with which he scratched out some words and letters, writing the corrections in the margin. Idle curiosity made me follow him in his work, and I noticed him correcting the word ‘ancora’, putting in an ‘h’ in the margin. I was irritated by this barbarous spelling, and told him that for four centuries ‘ancora’ had been spelt without an ‘h’.
“Quite so,” said he, “but I am quoting from Boccaccio, and one should be exact in quotations.”
“I apologize, sir; I see you are a man of letters.”
“Well, in a small way. My name is Martinelli.”
“Then you are in a great way indeed. I know you by repute, and if I am not mistaken you are a relation of Calsabigi, who has spoken of you to me. I have read some of your satires.”
“May I ask to whom I have the honour of speaking?”
“My name is Seingalt. Have you finished your edition of the Decameron?”
“I am still at work on it, and trying to increase the number of my subscribers.”
“If you will be so kind I should be glad to be of the number.”
“You do me honour.”
He gave me a ticket, and seeing that it was only for a guinea I took four, and telling him I hoped to see him again at the same coffee- house, the name of which I asked him, he told it me, evidently astonished at my ignorance; but his surprise vanished when I informed him that I had only been in London for an hour, and that it was my first visit to the great city.
“You will experience some trouble in finding your way back,” said he, “allow me to accompany you.”
When we had got out he gave me to understand that chance had led me to the “Orange Coffee House,” the most disreputable house in London.
“But you go there.”
“Yes, but I can say with Juvenal:
“‘Cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator.’
“The rogues can’t hurt me; I know them and they know me; we never trouble each other.”
“You have been a long time in London, I suppose.”
“I presume you know a good many people.”
“Yes, but I seldom wait on anyone but Lord Spencer. I am occupied with literary work and live all by myself. I don’t make much, but enough to live on. I live in furnished apartments, and have twelve shirts and the clothes you see on my back, and that is enough for my happiness.
“‘Nec ultra deos lacesso.’”
I was pleased with this honest man, who spoke Italian with the most exquisite correctness.
On the way back I asked him what I had better do to get a comfortable lodging. When he heard the style in which I wished to live and the time I proposed to spend in London, he advised me to take a house completely furnished.
“You will be given an inventory of the goods,” said he, “and as soon as you get a surety your house will be your castle.”
“I like the idea,” I answered, “but how shall I find such a house?”
“That is easily done.”
He went into a shop, begged the mistress to lend him the Advertiser, noted down several advertisements, and said —
“That’s all we have to do.”
The nearest house was in Pall Mall and we went to see it. An old woman opened the door to us, and shewed us the ground floor and the three floors above. Each floor contained two rooms and a closet. Everything shone with cleanliness; linen, furniture, carpets, mirrors, and china, and even the bells and the bolts on the doors. The necessary linen was kept in a large press, and in another was the silver plate and several sets of china. The arrangements in the kitchen were excellent, and in a word, nothing was lacking in the way of comfort. The rent was twenty guineas a week, and, not stopping to bargain, which is never of any use in London, I told Martinelli that I would take it on the spot.
Martinelli translated what I said to the old woman, who told me that if I liked to keep her on as housekeeper I need not have a surety, and that it would only be necessary for me to pay for each week in advance. I answered that I would do so, but that she must get me a servant who could speak French or Italian as well as English. She promised to get one in a day’s time, and I paid her for four weeks’ rent on the spot, for which she gave me a receipt under the name of the Chevalier de Seingalt. This was the name by which I was known during the whole of my stay in London.
Thus in less than two hours I was comfortably settled in a town which is sometimes described as a chaos, especially for a stranger. But in London everything is easy to him who has money and is not afraid of spending it. I was delighted to be able to escape so soon from a house where I was welcomed so ill, though I had a right to the best reception; but I was still more pleased at the chance which had made me acquainted with Martinelli, whom I had known by repute for six years.
When I got back Madame Cornelis had not yet arrived, though ten o’clock had struck. Young Cornelis was asleep on the sofa. I was enraged at the way the woman treated me, but I resolved to put a good face on it.
Before long three loud knocks announced the arrival of Madame Cornelis in a sedan-chair, and I heard her ascending the stairs. She came in and seemed glad to see me, but did not come and give me those caresses which I had a right to expect. She ran to her son and took him on her knee, but the sleepy boy did not respond to her kisses with any great warmth.
“He is very tired, like myself,” said I, “and considering that we are travellers in need of rest you have kept us waiting a long time.”
I do not know whether she would have answered at all, or, if so, what her answer would have been, for just at that moment a servant came in and said that supper was ready. She rose and did me the honour to take my arm, and we went into another room which I had not seen. The table was laid for four, and I was curious enough to enquire who was the fourth person.
“It was to have been my daughter, but I left her behind, as when I told her that you and her brother had arrived she asked me if you were well.”
“And you have punished her for doing so?”
“Certainly, for in my opinion she ought to have asked for her brother first and then for you. Don’t you think I was right?”
“Poor Sophie! I am sorry for her. Gratitude has evidently more influence over her than blood relationship.”
“It is not a question of sentiment, but of teaching young persons to think with propriety.”
“Propriety is often far from proper.”
The woman told her son that she was working hard to leave him a fortune when she died, and that she had been obliged to summon him to England as he was old enough to help her in her business.
“And how am I to help you, my dear mother?”
“I give twelve balls and twelve suppers to the nobility, and the same number to the middle classes in the year. I have often as many as six hundred guests at two guineas a head. The expenses are enormous, and alone as I am I must be robbed, for I can’t be in two places at once. Now that you are here you can keep everything under lock and key, keep the books, pay and receive accounts, and see that everyone is properly attended to at the assemblies; in fine, you will perform the duties of the master.”
“And do you think that I can do all that?”
“You will easily learn it.”
“I think it will be very difficult.”
“One of my secretaries will come and live with you, and instruct you in everything. During the first year you will only have to acquire the English language, and to be present at my assemblies, that I may introduce you to the most distinguished people in London. You will get quite English before long.”
“I would rather remain French.”
“That’s mere prejudice, my dear, you will like the sound of Mister Cornelis by-and-bye.”
“Yes; that is your name.”
“It’s a very funny one.”
“I will write it down, so that you may not forget it.” Thinking that her dear son was joking. Madame Cornelis looked at me in some astonishment, and told him to go to bed, which he did instantly. When we were alone she said he struck her as badly educated, and too small for his age.
“I am very much afraid,” said she, “that we shall have to begin his education all over again. What has he learnt in the last six years?”
“He might have learnt a great deal, for he went to the best boarding school in Paris; but he only learnt what he liked, and what he liked was not much. He can play the flute, ride, fence, dance a minuet, change his shirt every day, answer politely, make a graceful bow, talk elegant trifles, and dress well. As he never had any application, he doesn’t know anything about literature; he can scarcely write, his spelling is abominable, his arithmetic limited, and I doubt whether he knows in what continent England is situated.”
“He has used the six years well, certainly.”
“Say, rather, he has wasted them; but he will waste many more.”
“My daughter will laugh at him; but then it is I who have had the care of her education. He will be ashamed when he finds her so well instructed though she is only eight.”
“He will never see her at eight, if I know anything of reckoning; she is fully ten.”
“I think I ought to know the age of my own daughter. She knows geography, history, languages, and music; she argues correctly, and behaves in a manner which is surprising in so young a child. All the ladies are in love with her. I keep her at a school of design all day; she shews a great taste for drawing. She dines with me on Sundays, and if you would care to come to dinner next Sunday you will confess that I have not exaggerated her capacities.”
It was Monday. I said nothing, but I thought it strange that she did not seem to consider that I was impatient to see my daughter. She should have asked me to meet her at supper the following evening.
“You are just in time,” said she, “to witness the last assembly of the year; for in a few weeks all the nobility will leave town in order to pass the summer in the country. I can’t give you a ticket, as they are only issued to the nobility, but you can come as my friend and keep close to me. You will see everything. If I am asked who you are, I will say that you have superintended the education of my son in Paris, and have brought him back to me.”
“You do me too much honour.”
We continued talking till two o’clock in the morning, and she told me all about the suit she had with Sir Frederick Fermer. He maintained that the house she had built at a cost of ten thousand guineas belonged to him as he had furnished the money. In equity he was right, but according to English law wrong, for it was she who had paid the workmen, the contractors, and the architect; it was she that had given and received receipts, and signed all documents. The house, therefore, belonged to her, and Fermer admitted as much; but he claimed the sum he had furnished, and here was the kernel of the whole case, for she had defied him to produce a single acknowledgment of money received.
“I confess,” said this honest woman, “that you have often given me a thousand pounds at a time, but that was a friendly gift, and nothing to be wondered at in a rich Englishman, considering that we were lovers and lived together.”
She had won her suit four times over in two years, but Fermer took advantage of the intricacies of English law to appeal again and again, and now he had gone to the House of Lords, the appeal to which might last fifteen years.
“This suit,” said the honest lady, “dishonours Fermer.”
“I should think it did, but you surely don’t think it honours you.”
“Certainly I do.”
“I don’t quite understand how you make that out.”
“I will explain it all to you.”
“We will talk it over again”
In the three hours for which we talked together this woman did not once ask me how I was, whether I was comfortable, how long I intended to stay in London, or whether I had made much money. In short she made no enquiries what ever about me, only saying with a smile, but not heedlessly —
“I never have a penny to spare.”
Her receipts amounted to more than twenty-four thousand pounds per annum, but her expenses were enormous and she had debts.
I avenged myself on her indifference by not saying a word about myself. I was dresssed simply but neatly, and had not any jewellry or diamonds about my person.
I went to bed annoyed with her, but glad to have discovered the badness of her heart. In spite of my longing to see my daughter I determined not to take any steps to meet her till the ensuing Sunday, when I was invited to dinner.
Early next morning I told Clairmont to pull all my goods and chattels in a carriage, and when all was ready I went to take leave of young Cornelis, telling him I was going to live in Pall Mall, and leaving him my address.
“You are not going to stay with me, then?” said he.
“No, your mother doesn’t know how to welcome or to treat me.”
“I think you are right. I shall go back to Paris.”
“Don’t do anything so silly. Remember that here you are at home, and that in Paris you might not find a roof to shelter you. Farewell; I shall see you on Sunday.”
I was soon settled in my new house, and I went out to call on M. Zuccato, the Venetian ambassador. I gave him M. Morosini’s letter, and he said, coldly, that he was glad to make my acquaintance. When I asked him to present me at Court the insolent fool only replied with a smile, which might fairly be described as contemptuous. It was the aristocratic pride coming out, so I returned his smile with a cold bow, and never set foot in his house again.
On leaving Zuccato I called on Lord Egremont, and finding him ill left my letter with the porter. He died a few days after, so M. Morosini’s letters were both useless through no fault of his. We shall learn presently what was the result of the little note.
I then went to the Comte de Guerchi, the French ambassador, with a letter from the Marquis Chauvelin, and I received a warm welcome. This nobleman asked me to dine with him the following day, and told me that if I liked he would present me at Court after chapel on Sunday. It was at that ambassador’s table that I made the acquaintance of the Chevalier d’Eon, the secretary of the embassy, who afterwards became famous. This Chevalier d’Eon was a handsome woman who had been an advocate and a captain of dragoons before entering the diplomatic service; she served Louis XV. as a valiant soldier and a diplomatist of consummate skill. In spite of her manly ways I soon recognized her as a woman; her voice was not that of a castrato, and her shape was too rounded to be a man’s. I say nothing of the absence of hair on her face, as that might be an accident.
In the first days of my stay in London I made the acquaintance of my bankers; who held at least three hundred thousand francs of my money. They all honoured my drafts and offered their services to me, but I did not make use of their good offices.
I visited the theatres of Covent Garden and Drury Lane, but I could not extract much enjoyment out of the perfomances as I did not know a word of English. I dined at all the taverns, high and low, to get some insight into the peculiar manners of the English. In the morning I went on ‘Change, where I made some friends. It was there that a merchant to whom I spoke got me a Negro servant who spoke English, French, and Italian with equal facility; and the same individual procured me a cook who spoke French. I also visited the bagnios where a rich man can sup, bathe, and sleep with a fashionable courtezan, of which species there are many in London. It makes a magnificent debauch and only costs six guineas. The expense may be reduced to a hundred francs, but economy in pleasure is not to my taste.
On Sunday I made an elegant toilette and went to Court about eleven, and met the Comte de Guerchi as we had arranged. He introduced me to George III., who spoke to me, but in such a low voice that I could not understand him and had to reply by a bow. The queen made up for the king, however, and I was delighted to observe that the proud ambassador from my beloved Venice was also present. When M. de Guerchi introduced me under the name of the Chevalier de Seingalt, Zuccato looked astonished, for Mr. Morosini had called me Casanova in his letter. The queen asked me from what part of France I came, and understanding from my answer that I was from Venice, she looked at the Venetian ambassador, who bowed as if to say that he had no objection to make. Her Majesty then asked me if I knew the ambassadors extraordinary, who had been sent to congratulate the king, and I replied that I had the pleasure of knowing them intimately, and that I had spent three days in their society at Lyons, where M. Morosini gave me letters for my Lord d’Egremont and M. Zuccato.
“M. Querini amused me extremely,” said the queen; “he called me a little devil.”
“He meant to say that your highness is as witty as an angel.”
I longed for the queen to ask me why I had not been presented by M. Zuccatto, for I had a reply on the tip of my tongue that would have deprived the ambassador of his sleep for a week, while I should have slept soundly, for vengeance is a divine pleasure, especially when it is taken on the proud and foolish; but the whole conversation was a compound of nothings, as is usual in courts.
After my interview was over I got into my sedan-chair and went to Soho Square. A man in court dress cannot walk the streets of London without being pelted with mud by the mob, while the gentleman look on and laugh. All customs must be respected; they are all at once worthy and absurd.
When I got to the house of Madame Cornelis, I and my Negro Jarbe were shewn upstairs, and conducted through a suite of gorgeous apartments to a room where the lady of the house was sitting with two English ladies and two English gentlemen. She received me with familiar politeness, made me sit down in an armchair beside her, and then continued the conversation in English without introducing me. When her steward told her that dinner was ready, she gave orders for the children to be brought down.
I had long desired this meeting, and when I saw Sophie I ran to meet her; but she, who had profited by her mother’s instructions, drew back with profound courtesy and a compliment learnt by heart. I did not say anything for fear I should embarrass her, but I felt grieved to the heart.
Madame Cornelis then brought forward her son, telling the company that I had brought him to England after superintending his education for six years. She spoke in French, so I was glad to see that her friends understood that language.
We sat down to table; Madame Cornelis between her two children, and I between the two Englishwomen, one of whom delighted me by her pleasant wit. I attached myself to her as soon as I noticed that the mistress of the house only spoke to me by chance, and that Sophie did not look at me. She was so like me that no mistake was possible. I could see that she had been carefully tutored by her mother to behave in this manner, and I felt this treatment to be both absurd and impertinent.
I did not want to let anyone see that I was angry, so I began to discourse in a pleasant strain on the peculiarities of English manners, taking care, however, not to say anything which might wound the insular pride of the English guests. My idea was to make them laugh and to make myself agreeable, and I succeeded, but not a word did I speak to Madame Cornelis; I did not so much as look at her.
The lady next to me, after admiring the beauty of my lace, asked me what was the news at Court.
“It was all news to me,” said I, “for I went there to-day for the first time.”
“Have you seen the king?” said Sir Joseph Cornelis.
“My dear, you should not ask such questions,” said his mother.
“Because the gentleman may not wish to answer them.”
“On the contrary, madam, I like being questioned. I have been teaching your son for the last six years to be always asking something, for that is the way to acquire knowledge. He who asks nothing knows nothing.”
I had touched her to the quick, and she fell into a sulky silence.
“You have not told me yet,” said the lad, “whether you saw the king.”
“Yes, my man, I saw the king and the queen, and both their majesties did me the honour to speak to me.”
“Who introduced you?”
“The French ambassador.”
“I think you will agree with me,” said the mother, “that last question was a little too much.”
“Certainly it would be if it were addressed to a stranger, but not to me who am his friend. You will notice that the reply he extracted from me did me honour. If I had not wished it to be known that I had been at Court, I should not have come here in this dress.”
“Very good; but as you like to be questioned, may I ask you why you were not presented by your own ambassador?”
“Because the Venetian ambassador would not present me, knowing that his Government have a bone to pick with me.”
By this time we had come to the dessert, and poor Sophie had not uttered a syllable.
“Say something to M. de Seingalt,” said her mother.
“I don’t know what to say,” she answered. “Tell M. de Seingalt to ask me some questions, and I will answer to the best of my ability.”
“Well, Sophie, tell me in what studies you are engaged at the present time.”
“I am learning drawing; if you like I will shew you some of my work.”
“I will look at it with pleasure; but tell me how you think you have offended me; you have a guilty air.”
“I, sir? I do not think I have done anything amiss.”
“Nor do I, my dear; but as you do not look at me when you speak I thought you must be ashamed of something. Are you ashamed of your fine eyes? You blush. What have you done?”
“You are embarrassing her,” said the mother. “Tell him, my dear, that you have done nothing, but that a feeling of modesty and respect prevents you from gazing at the persons you address.”
“Yes,” said I; “but if modesty bids young ladies lower their eyes, politeness should make them raise them now and again.”
No one replied to this objection, which was a sharp cut for the absurd woman; but after an interval of silence we rose from the table, and Sophie went to fetch her drawings.
“I won’t look at anything, Sophie, unless you will look at me.”
“Come,” said her mother, “look at the gentleman.”
She obeyed as quickly as lightning, and I saw the prettiest eyes imaginable.
“Now,” said I, “I know you again, and perhaps you may remember having seen me.”
“Yes, although it is six years ago since we met, I recognized you directly.”
“And yet you did not look me in the face! If you knew how impolite it was to lower your eyes when you are addressing anyone, you would not do it. Who can have given you such a bad lesson?”
The child glanced towards her mother, who was standing by a window, and I saw who was her preceptress.
I felt that I had taken sufficient vengeance, and began to examine her drawings, to praise them in detail, and to congratulate her on her talents. I told her that she ought to be thankful to have a mother who had given her so good an education. This indirect compliment pleased Madame Cornelis, and Sophie, now free from all restraint, gazed at me with an expression of child-like affection which ravished me. Her features bore the imprint of a noble soul within, and I pitied her for having to grow up under the authority of a foolish mother. Sophie went to the piano, played with feeling, and then sang some Italian airs, to the accompaniment of the guitar, too well for her age. She was too precocious, and wanted much more discretion in her education than Madame Cornelis was able to give her.
When her singing had been applauded by the company, her mother told her to dance a minuet with her brother, who had learnt in Paris, but danced badly for want of a good carriage. His sister told him so with a kiss, and then asked me to dance with her, which I did very readily. Her mother, who thought she had danced exquisitely, as was indeed the case, told her that she must give me a kiss. She came up to me, and drawing her on my knee I covered her face with kisses, which she returned with the greatest affection. Her mother laughed with all her heart, and then Sophie, beginning to be doubtful again, went up to her and asked if she were angry. Her mother comforted her with a kiss.
After we had taken coffee, which was served in the French fashion, Madame Cornelis shewed me a magnificent hall which she had built, in which she could give supper to four hundred persons seated at one table. She told me, and I could easily believe her, that there was not such another in all London.
The last assembly was given before the prorogation of Parliament; it was to take place in four or five days. She had a score of pretty girls in her service, and a dozen footmen all in full livery.
“They all rob me,” said she, “but I have to put up with it. What I want is a sharp man to help me and watch over my interests; if I had such an one I should make an immense fortune in a comparatively short time; for when it is a question of pleasure, the English do not care what they spend.”
I told her I hoped she would find such man and make the fortune, and then I left her, admiring her enterprise.
When I left Soho Square I went to St. James’s Park to see Lady Harrington for whom I bore a letter, as I have mentioned. This lady lived in the precincts of the Court, and received company every Sunday. It was allowable to play in her house, as the park is under the jurisdiction of the Crown. In any other place there is no playing cards or singing on Sundays. The town abounds in spies, and if they have reason to suppose that there is any gaming or music going on, they watch for their opportunity, slip into the house, and arrest all the bad Christians, who are diverting themselves in a manner which is thought innocent enough in any other country. But to make up for this severity the Englishman may go in perfect liberty to the tavern or the brothel, and sanctify the Sabbath as he pleases.
I called on Lady Harrington, and having sent up my letter she summoned me into her presence. I found her in the midst of about thirty persons, but the hostess was easily distinguished by the air of welcome she had for me.
After I had made my bow she told me she had seen me at Court in the morning, and that without knowing who I was she had been desirous of making my acquaintance. Our conversation lasted three-quarters of an hour, and was composed of those frivolous observations and idle questions which are commonly addressed to a traveller.
The lady was forty, but she was still handsome. She was well known for her gallantries and her influence at Court. She introduced me to her husband and her four daughters, charming girls of a marriageable age. She asked me why I had come to London when everybody was on the point of going out of town. I told her that as I always obeyed the impulse of the moment, I should find it difficult to answer her question; besides, I intended staying for a year, so that the pleasure would be deferred but not lost.
My reply seemed to please her by its character of English independence, and she offered with exquisite grace to do all in her power for me.
“In the meanwhile,” said she, “we will begin by letting you see all the nobility at Madame Cornelis’s on Thursday next. I can give you a ticket to admit to ball and supper. It is two guineas.”
I gave her the money, and she took the ticket again, writing on it, “Paid. — Harrington.”
“Is this formality necessary, my lady?”
“Yes; or else they would ask you for the money at the doors.”
I did not think it necessary to say anything about my connection with the lady of Soho Square.
While Lady Harrington was making up a rubber at whist, she asked me if I had any other letters for ladies.
“Yes,” said I, “I have one which I intend to present to-morrow. It is a singular letter, being merely a portrait.”
“Have you got it about you?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“May I see it?”
“Certainly. Here it is.”
“It is the Duchess of Northumberland. We will go and give it her.”
“Just wait till they have marked the game.”
Lord Percy had given me this portrait as a letter of introduction to his mother.
“My dear duchess,” said Lady Harrington, “here is a letter of introduction which this gentleman begs to present to you.”
“I know, it is M. de Seingalt. My son has written to me about him. I am delighted to see you, Chevalier, and I hope you will come and see me. I receive thrice a week.”
“Will your ladyship allow me to present my valuable letter in person?”
“Certainly. You are right.”
I played a rubber of whist for very small stakes, and lost fifteen guineas, which I paid on the spot. Directly afterwards Lady Harrington took me apart, and gave me a lesson which I deem worthy of record.
“You paid in gold,” said she; “I suppose you had no bank notes about you?”
“Yes, my lady, I have notes for fifty and a hundred pounds.”
“Then you must change one of them or wait till another time to play, for in England to pay in gold is a solecism only pardonable in a stranger. Perhaps you noticed that the lady smiled?”
“Yes; who is she?”
“Lady Coventry, sister of the Duchess of Hamilton.”
“Ought I to apologize?”
“Not at all, the offence is not one of those which require an apology. She must have been more surprised than offended, for she made fifteen shillings by your paying her in gold.”
I was vexed by this small mischance, for Lady Coventry was an exquisitely beautiful brunette. I comforted myself, however, without much trouble.
The same day I made the acquaintance of Lord Hervey, the nobleman who conquered Havana, a pleasant an intelligent person. He had married Miss Chudleigh, but the marriage was annulled. This celebrated Miss Chudleigh was maid of honour to the Princess Dowager of Wales, and afterwards became Duchess of Kingston. As her history is well known I shall say something more of her in due course. I went home well enough pleased with my day’s work.
The next day I began dining at home, and found my cook very satisfactory; for, besides the usual English dishes, he was acquainted with the French system of cooking, and did fricandeaus, cutlets, ragouts, and above all, the excellent French soup, which is one of the principal glories of France.
My table and my house were not enough for my happiness. I was alone, and the reader will understand by this that Nature had not meant me for a hermit. I had neither a mistress nor a friend, and at London one may invite a man to dinner at a tavern where he pays for himself, but not to one’s own table. One day I was invited by a younger son of the Duke of Bedford to eat oysters and drink a bottle of champagne. I accepted the invitation, and he ordered the oysters and the champagne, but we drank two bottles, and he made me pay half the price of the second bottle. Such are manners on the other side of the Channel. People laughed in my face when I said that I did not care to dine at a tavern as I could not get any soup.
“Are you ill?” they said, “soup is only fit for invalids.”
The Englishman is entirely carnivorous. He eats very little bread, and calls himself economical because he spares himself the expense of soup and dessert, which circumstance made me remark that an English dinner is like eternity: it has no beginning and no end. Soup is considered very extravagant, as the very servants refuse to eat the meat from which it has been made. They say it is only fit to give to dogs. The salt beef which they use is certainly excellent. I cannot say the same for their beer, which was so bitter that I could not drink it. However, I could not be expected to like beer after the excellent French wines with which the wine merchant supplied me, certainly at a very heavy cost.
I had been a week in my new home without seeing Martinelli. He came on a Monday morning, and I asked him to dine with me. He told me that he had to go to the Museum, and my curiosity to see the famous collection which is such an honour to England made me accompany him. It was there that I made the acquaintance of Dr. Mati, of whom I shall speak in due course.
At dinner Martinelli made himself extremely pleasant. He had a profound knowledge of the English manners and customs which it behoved me to know if I wished to get on. I happened to speak of the impoliteness of which I had been guilty in paying a gaming debt in gold instead of paper, and on this text he preached me a sermon on the national prosperity, demonstrating that the preference given to paper shews the confidence which is felt in the Bank, which may or may not be misplaced, but which is certainly a source of wealth. This confidence might be destroyed by a too large issue of paper money, and if that ever took place by reason of a protracted or unfortunate war, bankruptcy would be inevitable, and no one could calculate the final results.
After a long discussion on politics, national manners, literature, in which subjects Martinelli shone, we went to Drury Lane Theatre, where I had a specimen of the rough insular manners. By some accident or other the company could not give the piece that had been announced, and the audience were in a tumult. Garrick, the celebrated actor who was buried twenty years later in Westminster Abbey, came forward and tried in vain to restore order. He was obliged to retire behind the curtain. Then the king, the queen, and all the fashionables left the theatre, and in less than an hour the theatre was gutted, till nothing but the bare walls were left.
After this destruction, which went on without any authority interposing, the mad populace rushed to the taverns to consume gin and beer. In a fortnight the theatre was refitted and the piece announced again, and when Garrick appeared before the curtain to implore the indulgence of the house, a voice from the pit shouted, “On your knees.” A thousand voices took up the cry “On your knees,” and the English Roscius was obliged to kneel down and beg forgiveness. Then came a thunder of applause, and everything was over. Such are the English, and above all, the Londoners. They hoot the king and the royal family when they appear in public, and the consequence is, that they are never seen, save on great occasions, when order is kept by hundreds of constables.
One day, as I was walking by myself, I saw Sir Augustus Hervey, whose acquaintance I had made, speaking to a gentleman, whom he left to come to me. I asked him whom he had been speaking to.
“That’s the brother of Earl Ferrers,” said he, “who was hanged a couple of months ago for murdering one of his people.”
“And you speak to his brother?”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“Is he not dishonoured by the execution of his relative?”
“Dishonoured! Certainly not; even his brother was not dishonoured. He broke the law, but he paid for it with his life, and owed society nothing more. He’s a man of honour, who played high and lost; that’s all. I don’t know that there is any penalty in the statute book which dishonours the culprit; that would be tyrannical, and we would not bear it. I may break any law I like, so long as I am willing to pay the penalty. It is only a dishonour when the criminal tries to escape punishment by base or cowardly actions.”
“How do you mean?”
“To ask for the royal mercy, to beg forgiveness of the people, and the like.”
“How about escaping from justice?”
“That is no dishonour, for to fly is an act of courage; it continues the defiance of the law, and if the law cannot exact obedience, so much the worse for it. It is an honour for you to have escaped from the tyranny of your magistrates; your flight from The Leads was a virtuous action. In such cases man fights with death and flees from it. ‘Vir fugiens denuo pugnabit’.”
“What do you think of highway robbers, then?”
“I detest them as wretches dangerous to society, but I pity them when I reflect that they are always riding towards the gallows. You go out in a coach to pay a visit to a friend three or four miles out of London. A determined and agile-looking fellow springs upon you with his pistol in his hand, and says, ‘Your money or your life.’ What would you do in such a case?”
“If I had a pistol handy I would blow out his brains, and if not I would give him my purse and call him a scoundrelly assassin.”
“You would be wrong in both cases. If you killed him, you would be hanged, for you have no right to take the law into your own hands; and if you called him an assassin, he would tell you that he was no assassin as he attacked you openly and gave you a free choice. Nay, he is generous, for he might kill you and take your money as well. You might, indeed, tell him he has an evil trade, and he would tell you that you were right, and that he would try to avoid the gallows as long as possible. He would then thank you and advise you never to drive out of London without being accompanied by a mounted servant, as then no robber would dare to attack you. We English always carry two purses on our journeys; a small one for the robbers and a large one for ourselves.”
What answer could I make to such arguments, based as they were on the national manners? England is a rich sea, but strewn with reefs, and those who voyage there would do well to take precautions. Sir Augustus Hervey’s discourse gave me great pleasure.
Going from one topic to another, as is always the way with a desultory conversation, Sir Augustus deplored the fate of an unhappy Englishman who had absconded to France with seventy thousand pounds, and had been brought back to London, and was to be hanged.
“How could that be?” I asked.
“The Crown asked the Duc de Nivernois to extradite him, and Louis XV. granted the request to make England assent to some articles of the peace. It was an act unworthy of a king, for it violates the right of nations. It is true that the man is a wretch, but that has nothing to do with the principle of the thing.”
“Of course they have got back the seventy thousand pounds?”
“Not a shilling of it.”
“How was that?”
“Because no money was found on him. He has most likely left his little fortune to his wife, who can marry again as she is still young and pretty.”
“I wonder the police have not been after her.”
“Such a thing is never thought of. What could they do? It’s not likely that she would confess that her husband left her the stolen money. The law says robbers shall be hanged, but it says nothing about what they have stolen, as they are supposed to have made away with it. Then if we had to take into account the thieves who had kept their theft and thieves who had spent it, we should have to make two sets of laws, and make all manner of allowances; the end of it would be inextricable confusion. It seems to us Englishmen that it would not be just to ordain two punishments for theft. The robber becomes the owner of what he has stolen; true, he ‘got it by violence, but it is none the less his, for he can do what he likes with it. That being the case, everyone should be careful to keep what he has, since he knows that once stolen he will never see it again. I have taken Havana from Spain: this was robbery on a large scale.”
He talked at once like a philosopher and a faithful subject of his king.
Engaged in this discussion we walked towards the Duchess of Northumberland’s, where I made the acquaintance of Lady Rochefort, whose husband had just been appointed Spanish ambassador. This lady’s gallantries were innumerable, and furnished a fresh topic of conversation every day.
The day before the assembly at Soho Square Martinelli dined with me, and told me that Madame Cornelis was heavily in debt, and dared not go out except on Sundays, when debtors are privileged.
“The enormous and unnecessary expense which she puts herself to,” said he, “will soon bring her to ruin. She owes four times the amount of her assets, even counting in the house, which is a doubtful item, as it is the subject of litigation.”
This news only distressed me for her children’s sake, for I thought that she herself well deserved such a fate.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07