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Adelphi, Farewell! by Arthur Machen


'He and I walked away together; we stopped a little while by the rails of the Adelphi, looking on the Thames, and I said to him with some emotion that I was now thinking of two friends we had lost, who had once lived in the buildings behind us, Beauclerk and Garrick. "Ay, sir (said he tenderly), and two such friends as cannot be supplied."'

'He and I were Johnson and Boswell. And yet I understand that they are going to pull down the Adelphi.

Nay, 'he and I' were just coming away from poor Davy's house, Number 5, where his widow had entertained them elegantly. Mrs. Garrick had talked of her husband with complacency, and when she cast her eyes on his portrait, which hung over the chimney-piece, said that 'death was now the most agreeable object to her.'

Now, this should be sufficient. The place where this amazing remark was uttered to a festive assembled party, presumably with the object of cheering everybody up, and promoting a flow of genial spirits, such a place as this should be a sacred relic, a house to be preserved for ever.

And yet they are going to pull down the Adelphi. Nay, more. After this gay beginning, there was a large company in the drawing-room. Hannah More and Sir Joshua and Dr. Burney were present at dinner; later came the Bishop of Killaloe—did he often visit his Cathedral Church?—Dr. Percy of the Reliques, and several others. Johnson, talking of 'a very respectable authour'—modern English, 'a distinguished man of letters'—told the company a curious circumstance of his life, which was that he had married a printer's devil.

'And,' added the Doctor, 'she did not disgrace him; the woman had a bottom of good sense.' Now, the Doctor was here talking the English of his youth. If he had said this in 1730 nobody would have laughed. To this day we don't see anything funny when we speak of a blind street or alley as a cul-de-sac\ I am sure no self-respecting French cook of a very few years ago would have seen the slightest impropriety in murmuring in the ears of Madame la Duchesse, as he presented his new-found and exquisite dish to Her Grace: 'Les culs d'Artichauts à la Marjolaine.' But times change and phrases, and when the great Doctor brought out this sentence at Mrs. Garrick's reception, on Friday, April 20th, 1781: 'most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing.' So Boswell records, though, remembering the honour of the Church, he declares that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his face with perfect steadiness. And Hannah More, who might be considered the Church's Maiden-Aunt-in-chief, slyly hid her face behind a lady's back. This was a tremendous occasion. Johnson would not bear that a phrase of his, meant to be perfectly straightforward common-sense English, should be regarded as funny. And so he glared sternly round and said: 'Where's the merriment?' And then he 'looked aweful,' and slowly pronounced: 'I say the woman was fundamentally sensible.' I think that it shows the power of this great man that the company, which had tittered, did not now howl with mirth. But they did not. They 'sat composed as at a funeral.'

And all this in the Adelphi. And yet they are going to pull down the Adelphi.

And, coming to a later, though still a most noble age, and to imagination in place of fact, do you remember where it was that Mr. Wardle rubbed his hands and said:

'Let us have some of your best wine to-day, waiter.'

And the waiter replied:

'You shall have some of the very best, sir.'

Now, I declare that that wine, the very best wine of an old-fashioned London hotel in 1830, has afforded me more choice pleasures than any wine I have ever drunk in fact. I revel in it. I do not seek to know exactly what wine it was. But I have every confidence in it. 'Some of the very best!' It was more than wine; it was dreams and chimes and music. The oldest and the rarest of it had been binned very deep down in dark cellars near the flow of the river, almost from the time of the Brothers Adam. I incline to surmise, though I will not be obstinate, that the dessert wine was Malmsey Madeira, older perhaps than the place where it was drunk; a vintage, let us say, of 1740.

And this wine was administered at Osborne's Hotel in the Adelphi. Is this a place to pull down?

But I am afraid it will be pulled down, and that the game of our dear old London is definitely up. In the last twenty years the change has been great; in the next twenty years it will probably be much greater. The world changes and the Strand must change with it. I suppose so; but I am sorry. Of course it all began just a hundred years ago. Many people have been accustomed to regard our late King George IV as a typical Tory. Some people said he was a pig-headed despot. Leigh Hunt, a Radical, was sent to gaol for abusing him. But I am afraid he was not of the true Tory faith. In his youth, let it be remembered, he had associated with the Whigs—I fear that they left their mark on him. Anyhow, it was in his reign that they began to knock about the Strand; the West Strand, by Trafalgar Square. David Copperfield remembered the old West Strand.

'I remember two pudding-shops, between which I was divided, according to my finances. One was in a court close to St. Martin's Church—at the back of the church—which is now removed altogether. The pudding at that shop was made of currants, and was rather a special pudding, but was dear, twopennyworth not being larger than a pennyworth of more ordinary pudding. A good shop for the latter was in the Strand—somewhere in that part which has been rebuilt since. It was a stout, pale pudding, heavy and flabby, and with great flat raisins in it, stuck in whole at wide distances apart.'

And I remember that stout, pale pudding too. In my day, it was to be seen sweltering in pans in the window of a shop on the north side of the Strand, over against St. Mary's.

Thus David's recollections of his sparse meals. I do not suppose that he—or Dickens—was aware that the court which sold the superior pudding was a relic of a cookshop rookery of the early seventeenth century. The quarter was sometimes called Porridge Island, sometimes the Bermudas, sometimes the Caribbee Islands. In Ben Jonson's day the place was noted for 'bottle ale' and tobacco. In 1753 a periodical essayist mentions the 'fine gentleman whose dinner is served up under cover of a pewter plate, from the Cook's shop in Porridge Island.' Men had eaten and drunk roughly in this maze of courts and alleys for more than two hundred years; poor little David Copperfield comes last and gets his slice of pudding there; and then George IV sweeps it all away. I wish he hadn't. Then there was peace for a long time. Now and then a fine old house was pulled down, and an ugly modern house took its place, but the aspect of things in the Strand and about it remained pretty much as they were in 1830. When I first saw the Strand in 1880 it was still intact, and so it remained till late in the 'nineties. And then the crash came. Beautiful old Clement's Inn was, I think, the first to fall.

'I was once of Clement's Inn,' says Shallow, 'where I think they will talk of mad Shallow yet.'

As you went up by the narrow way from the Strand, you passed the fine hall of the Society, built in 1715, and within there were green gardens and closes, and a delicious eighteenth-century house standing in the middle of a lawn; what a choice retreat in the very heart of London; peace and greenness within a minute of the roaring Strand! Down came St. Clement's Inn; and up went the big red flats. Soon after came the great scheme. Holywell Street and Wych Street with their sixteenth-century gables were swept away; New Inn disappeared; queer mazes of mouldering streets about Clare Market banished for ever; the old Globe, the old Olympic became as Babylon, things fallen and abolished. Australia House, mighty business buildings, as magnificent as anything in Berlin, stand in their stead.

And now the Adelphi also is to become a memory!


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