REGENT-STREET has no historic interest, even less than our Chesnutstreet. It has less variety, too, of buildings and pursuits than your Broadway, and bears no comparison with the Boulevards in this respect. Its great beauty consists in its company; in its animated display of equipages, in its well-dressed and elegant multitudes. In these particulars, it has no rival in the universal history of streets.
I like fashionable streets. In walking in them, one feels, for the time being, a refined antipathy to low life. If shabby in apparel, one sneaks instinctively into some place of meaner resort. The inclination to be decent is, I believe, one of the strongest of the human mind. Pliny informs us that the drowned ladies of his time were always found .# their faces; their strongest feeling being, in the last struggles of life, the becoming. Poets have given their heroes, even those not very delicately brought up, such as Julius Caesar, the same sentiment. One might reason much, if careless about squandering time, of the advantages to be drawn from these human feelings; say the statesman, of his power, through the means of fine streets and gardens, and other places of public resort, of making the upper classes instrumental in refining that part which, from neglect or scorn, or from want of observation, is continually falling into slovenly and immoral habits; and of the good effects which the frequency of such places, and a more familiar intercourse of the different orders, might have in lessening pride on the one hand, and on the other the vicious emulation produced by an excessively important and exclusive gentility. The south and Picadilly end of this street meet you with a curve, having on each side a colonnade and roof over a wide pavement, which is called the Quadrant; a kind of eddy, that receives the sediment of the street of a rainy day, and affords shelter to those who have none elsewhere. This Quadrant continues in a tangent due north, and terminates at a mile distant, in Regent’s Park. I mounted the gentle ascent, and stood where Oxford-street pours in its multitudes, east and west, mixed with the elegant world from Grosvenor and Berkley squares, and the other fashionable districts. Here the grand scene suddenly explodes. One used only to the laconic simplicity of our Schuylkill, on reaching this spot, stands agape with astonishment; and at the end of an hour you will see him gaping there still. One becomes fatigued, however, with the general prospect, at length, and begins to analyze, and look into the details. Equipages do not present themselves in a single form, but in a most agreeable and picturesque variety. Now it is a gorgeous and massive chariot—the king’s ; cream-colored horses, sturdy and large, two postillions, mounted footmen, and lancers, front and rear, in scarlet livery; now it is a tiny coach, light as Queen Mab’s, when she trots over ladies noses in a dream, driven by a woman in the full blaze of English beauty, with ponys a little bigger than Venus’ doves; now it is a high-mounted barouche, rich with emblazonry, displaying its group of gallants and noble dames, overlooking the prospect; or a modest box, an earl’s arms upon the pannels, and at a foot only from the pavement, to accommodate old age and the gout. Now and then you see a two-wheeled vehicle, burnished with the precious metals, and a single horse, and inside a single gentleman, white-gloved, and the jetty reins reposing gracefully on the left hand and grasped in the right, rattling over the pavement, and going nowhere with infinite speed — passing sometimes over a man’s body without his knowing it. This is a tilbury. The little man in sky-blue, silver-laced, who swings in the rear of it like the tail of a kite, whose shorts, and fairtops, high-buttoned jacket, silver shoulder-knots, and bushy hair curled over his varnished cap, give an air of the pompous, excessively genteel. This is a tygar—an individual not yet known in America, and therefore the more deserving of notice. Little he must be, from the nature of his functions; and leanness being inadmissible in a gentleman’s household, therefore little and plump. He is suspected of being sometimes of the gentler sex. Doubtful. He is intrusted with his master’s private affairs, and minus plaisirs, and is required to be of wonderful secrecy and fidelity. Why called a ‘tygar,” I omit to inquire. It is not granted mortals to know all things. He who sits imminent in front, of graver aspect, and sturdier frame, wearing a broad brim, and coat with the majesty of many folds and
capes, and a wig, making the coach-box dispute important looks with the wool-sack; this august personage is the coachman. Driving gives to the human countenance a cast of gravity. There is the idea of holding the reins, and sense of important functions. One may be charged with a duchess, and a long line of ancestors, or it may be, with the destinies of the three kingdoms; one may drive perhaps the prime minister. Indeed, the dignity of this office has been recognized in all ages. Automedon was one of Homer’s notabilities. In England some of the noblest blood seats itself occasionally upon the coach-box. In Jehu’s time they made kings of drivers, and often in ours they make drivers of kings; and this incognito brings a general respect; as when the gods travelled in mortal disguises, a poor devil was treated with fat geese and other civilities, through fear it might be Jove, or some other stroller from the skies. The plump little man astride the leading horse, like a pair of compasses; his face the full moon, in a powdered wig; his livery silver upon a black, yellow, or blue ground; the arms of “our house’ emblazoned upon his left sleeve, and a bouquet at his button-hole, is the postillion. Above all things, if you presume to drive into Regentstreet, let your footman be tall, and perfect in shape, a study for a statuary. Let his coat be of a glaring color, rustling in gold or silver, his vest plush, the sky-blue lining reflecting upon the bright polish of his countenance. His hair must be powdered and frizzled into ringlets, and he must wear a laced hat, and silk hose of the drifted snow. Two of these must swing in your rear, and one more on days of parade; each holding on great occasions a mace, glittering with the precious metals, obliquely over the tail of your chariot. If a great lady does sometimes take a fancy for her footman, in England, as we read in the romances, it has its apologies. This elegant individual is chosen also in Paris upon the same principles; but there he is plumed, which yet adds to the procerity of his figure ; he is more airy too, and elastic, and steps upon the tail of a coach like ‘feathered Mercury.” If with these principal figures, footmen, coachmen, and postillions, you imagine a graceful and magnificent chariot, its pannels blazing with crests and arms, and filled with a group of ladies and their cavaliers, and drawn by six horses of fine rounded and tapering forms, and skins of the dove, and burnished with rich trappings, you will have before you one of the prettiest objects ever presented to the human fancy; one which Homer’s muse would not have disdained to describe. Of these footmen there are in London enough to found a colony, about thirty thousand. They have, too, their several ranks, conferred by personal merits, and the dignity of the employers; he who bears the long staff, announces his master, and delivers messages, being of a more graceful mien and polished phrase. And the pride of place of the footman is quite as great as that of the patron. To see a pair of broad shoulders, fit to do good service at the plough, thrown away in this manner upon the tail of a coach, at first inspires one with contempt for the individual. But after all, what matter whether you step behind a coach, or get into it, if happy in your lot Not the least beautiful images of the picture are the mounted ladies and gentlemen. All the variety of noble steeds for which the English are so noted, are seen here caparisoned richly, and mounted by the best riders of the world. Horsemanship may be considered as an English virtue par eminence. Fanny Kemble, who used to scamper up Chesnut-street, the oafs with mouths wide enough to swallow her and the horse, including spurs and martingale, for her riding qualities (these only) would be here unnoticed. Fifty ladies are now in view, who would leap you a five-bar gate, and come in at the death. As for the Englishman, he is a kind of centaur, and seems to be a part of the horse; other nations look as if they mightfall off. In fine arts, and in literary and military glory, the French may dispute perhaps the palm with this island; but on horseback, the Englishman leaves the world at his heels. The London merchant is often rich enough to imitate, and even outdo, the splendor of the nobles; and parades his magnificence so presumptuously in all the public places, that the latter are driven to hunt distinction in the opposite direction. It is common enough to see a lord, with the blood of twenty generations in his veins, mounted in simple garb upon a nag, followed by his footman upon a full-blooded steed, in all the pomp of liveried greatness. I forgot to say that an American citizen, of Philadelphia, is seen daily riding up Regentstreet, with a hauteur that ill-befits the freedom of our state. The street margins have each a broad walk, paved with square flags, and each covered with a full stream of pedestrians. About ’93, a gentleman used to appear abroad with a toupée, and two curls on each ear, and a chapeau under the arm; and to be properly frizzed and coiffed was the affair of two or three hours. To reduce this exuberance of dress, was one of the achievements of the French revolution; and more modern reform continues to trench upon the elegancies of life daily. Each class, however, still continues, upon the continent, to move quietly in its separate sphere, and retains a peculiar mode of dress; but in England, no employment disqualifying anyone from being a gentleman, pretension breaks up and confuses the orders; and the very uniformity makes the laws of fashion more absolute; for neatness of fit, and the genteel air, is all that is left to distinguish the master from the valet. Also in nations which only copy, and do not invent, there will be less diversity. A Parisian fashion is always a little less fashionable in Paris than in foreign countries. Upon the Boulevards, the Philadelphia Quaker, the German, with his triangular hat and tiewig, the trowsered Turk, and Christian razeed to the quick, all pass by unnoticed. Upon Regent-street, any abrupt departure from the simple, uniform mode, is a subject of observation, and with the low-bred, sometimes, of insult. Such uniformity is much less remarkable in America, from the constant emigration of foreigners, and the greater love for French fashions. As ‘gentleman’ in London implies entire exemption from business, the pretenders are on the strain to disguise professional habits. The cockney, aping the exquisite, carries awkwardly his snowy glove between finger and thumb, and an inch of immaculate cambric looks out from his pocket; and the artist of the ballet walks toes-in, to conceal the dancing-master. All affect to seem natural; but efforts to conceal are discoveries, and the affectations flash in the eyes of the adept, in spite of the supereminent Stultz. An English gentleman is a right neat personage, having no gold nor silver ornaments, nor open-worked
embroidery, nor any attempts at finery. All is appropriate neatness. The coat does not draw away the attention from the wearer, who in fact is the principal part of the concern. Paris is the proper region of ladies’ dress, but a Frenchman is magnificent only in his robe de chambre of damask, with arabesques of divers colors upon an emerald ground: out of this, he is entitled to no sort of commendation.
The English are anti-paganist: whiskers are not permitted to spread upon a British subject lower than the ear; and they repudiate moustaches altogether. A Spanish nobleman, however, moustached and whiskered to the eyes, is quite ‘the go’ in the very fashionable circles. Their travellers often ridicule your women’s dressing on the street; their own smutty and fuliginous atmosphere making such a custom inconvenient in London. The Frenchwomen, too, run about undressed in their filthy streets in the same manner. But whatever be the streets, I like the English custom in this. Women should be relieved, on ordinary occasions, from the inquisition of the toilet. One is favorably disposed to a beauty that can stand en déshabille. Beauty gains by contrasts, and after all, is more dangerous in a well-ordered neglige, than in the extremest fashion. A woman is never dressed, who is dressed always.
HERE Mercury—who would believe it!—stepped down from the top of the East India House, Leadenhall-street, and leaving Britannia to shift for herself, presented himself at my side as escort, and now standing upon the sunny brow of the hill, where the grand scene at fashionable hours of parade opens upon the view in its brightest 6clat, and unseen, we looked out upon the passing world. This one, upon a slow drive, his ambrosial curls dishevelled in the breeze, his august visage toward the firmament due vertically, who now kindly surveys the heavens, that with his vast self compared are but an atom, and now peruses his goodly frame and well-turned legs, incomprehensible, and marvels how nature could create such fair proportions, such decencies of limb, is the London fop. Think of his dressing himself in this manner in cold blood, and riding out, regardless of consequences ! He opes his lips: let us listen! “Tom, do you ‘ear?—I say, Tom, you’ll drive on slowly. I walk. A gentleman’s figure is lost in a coach:’— and he lets himself down softly upon the pavement. She who now alights, is the beautiful and fashionable Heavens! Mercury, did you ever see such a transcendent little foot! ‘Hush | If you run into raptures in this way with a foot, what are you to do with the whole woman’ Such gracility of waist!—such jauntiness of figure! If I were a god, like you, I would take her under my special divinity. And did you see how, with three bounds, like a light wood-nymph, with an ease and grace, and as it were, without the least intention — ‘Yes, and you will see how this prettiest little leg and foot of London will contrive, without the least intention, to show themselves presently in getting again into the carriage. The difference between male and female foppery is, that the lady does not fall in love with herself. It was from a proper knowledge of human nature, that Ovid
made Hyacinth, and not his sister, die of this kind of affection. Your American dandy is but the miscarriage of a London exquisite. The perfection of the character is to be sought for in Paris, yet the Englishman is quaint and singular. A fop is the effect of excessive refinement. Nature has made no kind of excellence easy to mortals; and it is downright presumption in your ultra-marine ignorance yet to attempt the character at all. In London we have many shades of the same. Now here is one not unworthy your attention, of the parvenu breed. He makes presents to himself from a great lady, and shows them about; and exhibits the billets of his laundress as letters from people of quality. He multiplies a duchess into fifty, and lives a whole season on a duke’s dinner. “They are so horribly stupid at Almacks, he begins to be fatigued; felt no inclination, last night, but was prevailed on to go by the pretty Ambassadress of Couldn’t refuse.’ This, to whom he now gives the tip of his little finger, is an intimate acquaintance just returned from abroad, after a year’s absence. ‘How—a’—you? How—a’—they in Rome This is very neat; horribly disagreeable vests they make in London | Heard you were in town. Did n’t see you yesterday at the levée.’ ‘Devil you didn’t! Where were your eyes! I saw you. (Neither of them were there.) Tom, do you know I am fallen furiously in love with the Countess ! I am; and that I visit her every evening” — I do.’ And now he ducked his head to a great lord who passed, to show lookers-on the dignity of his acquaintance; and now he examines his legs, and talks of the intellectual faculties. This one, who blows the dust from his sleeve, is keeping up appearances. He has just undergone the refreshing process of changing his linen; he has put on a clean shirt, and feels queer in it. “Why, Job, how lean you are growing !’ ‘Dissipation dissipation I begin to think hot suppers and wines are unwholesome ; and then the sleepless nights;’ (yawns.) This one ‘passes the warm season at Brighton, or Cheltenham,’ or other watering-places — in his back parlor. Here is one who has the flavor of gentility, and though not come of a good house, actually lives with dukes and duchesses. “I am your shadow, my lord. I’ll follow.’ Great men, and especially women, , though they hate flatterers, cannot dispense with the flattery. This is a young man of promise; has travelled; sings in a duet, is good at a rubber, writes or makes sketches in albums, shapes a hat, matches a color with a complexion, to a nicety; is an obsequious attendant upon the ladies, in the absence of nobler gallants. He understands dumb show, the most difficult part of acting; is a good listener; knows by looking in a lady’s face whether she would rather talk or be talked to. He has, as you see, fashionable limbs, much better than philosophy. How often, alas! after graduating in the university, does one owe his fortune to a good leg! This man is not unhappy; he has, on the contrary, a pleasure in his sycophancy, as great perhaps as a pious person in his religious devotions. One of the natural bumps of the human skull is veneration. Pride, you see, has a curious effect upon the nervous system; elevating the chin, sometimes turning up the nose, and giving a strange toss to the head. This is my Lady > too conscious of Threadneedle-street. She is asserting her dignity, and fears to be suspected of a lower rank. A higher bred person knows nothing of such apprehensions, and walks as she pleases. ‘Who is this, do you think, who turns his back upon the commons with a lordly contempt, with almost the stride of a kangaroo, looking over his shoulder, as if afraid some one might take improper liberties with his shadow o’ A royal duke at least. “A royal fiddle-stick! He is the duke’s footman o’ I will just call your attention to this one, with lack-lustre eye, who sits in the barouche by his mamma. He is come of a noble house, is naturally stupid, and the intentions of nature have been carried out by education. His father was illustrious, and died, and the mother is unhappy over this only son, as an eagle who has hatched an owl. He has been chummed and crammed at Eton and Oxford, and does not yet know the Latin for a goose. He has danced till there are no more pumps in London, yet walks a clown as distinctly as Venus ever walked a goddess. He has been scolded into an apoplexy for deficiencies, and wears, as you see, an apologetic face, as if making excuses for the stupidity of its owner. . . . And this one—he was born, I think, in a Newgate cell; wrote history, from which he made a romance, and dramatized it. He is now a chief justice, and will die a lord. Step aside, and let pass this lady and her poodle. Tell me, most learned Hermes, why the London and Paris ladies love dogs so much better than children; and why this canine appetite has not extended to the United States. “Women have been addicted to dogs in all ages and in all countries, and the inclination will come upon your women with greater refinement. I remember that St. Clemens preached a sermon, yet extant, against ladies’ poodles, at Alexandria. A woman has a natural bias toward nursing, and give her a lap-dog, she will not want to nurse any thing else. You will observe that they who indulge much in this passion, never marry: so that dogs are in some degree the cause of old maids.” THE cloud here suddenly separated, and mixing in its kindred vapors, we stood forth purified in the open air, at Very’s, with keen appetites, and the hour six. I like the European dinner hour. An English lady now dresses for dinner at the hour her great grandmother used to undress to go to bed. Henry IV. used to dine at twelve; Louis a Great at two, and the hour of dinner has regularly advanced with every new degree of national refinement. We stepped in. This is the only house in London that bears some resemblance to the French restaurant. And this is a little unfrenchified. The woman at the contoir is left out. Son of Maia, what soup do you prefer Your Greek custom of having the meals served by the most beautiful male and female slaves, was worthy the elegant Greeks. The Romans were your imitators in this, as in most other things, giving vast prices for beautiful slaves to fill this office. “They imitated a still higher authority. We were served in
heaven by Hebé and Ganymede, and I myself officiated in important entertainments.’ Your Roman and Greek custom (a little Burgundy after your soup) of not admitting women at their tables, was detestable. The English — and we of course — have followed this mode partially, driving out the women with the dessert and sweetmeats. Those decent London monasteries, the club-houses, will accomplish the rest. In a country whose richest tables exclude women, any high degree of enjoyment and refinement is not to be expected. Seventeen thousand is the average number of dinners devoured annually at a single club-house, the Athenaeum. It is from this practice that intemperance is more frequent at a London than at a Parisian meal. It is for the same reason there is so much less vivacity at a London than a Parisian evening party. Why, an Englishman is as stupid after dinner as “An anaconda who has swallowed a horse And the rider. Your ancient custom of healths, in which one drank part of the cup, and gave the rest to his friend, was sometimes exceptionable. ‘And sometimes delightful, as Dido’s health to the Trojan. You had the choice of the lips you would drink to.” Why was it you offered in sacrifice the tongues of the animals slaughtered for the feast ! “To intimate that the language of the feast was for the gods only ; not to be divulged among mortals.’ In our country we have them salted for the tea-table : (you will like a little of this poulet a la crapaudine ; the flavor is racy and delicate.) In many respects, the art of dining has been improved by the moderns. The Greeks imposed ceremonies upon their entertainments not in accordance with their usual good taste. Not only had they places of honor, but a master of the feast, a part of whose duty it was to compel each guest to drink his portion. How much better the French, who remove the sense of authority almost entirely; the host even mixing undistinguishably with the guests, lest his presence should impose upon their liberty. In Homer’s time, there was not only a first seat, but the largest share of meat; and the fullest cup was given to the highest rank; and we may infer, by the way Joseph helped Benjamin, that the Jews had the same custom. The English, who are the last people in Europe to introduce ease into their social intercourse, have retained these Greek absurdities, adding some of their own, which we, their faithful imitators, have transferred to the new world. Some philosophers have thought the monkies a part of our species; and nothing seems so much to induce such a belief, as the readiness with which men ape one another’s ridiculous practices. The Chinese custom of dining out yourself when you have company, is more reasonable. If any place requires to be unfettered of restraint, in a special manner, it is the festive board. A stranger at an English or American table feels like a young miss during the first days of her corsets. At a French table you are easy as the uncinctured graces.
The dinner being discussed, with many long digressions upon cookery and politics, away we hied again into the street, where the gas-lights had taken up their office for the night. The blind man’s staff went tap-tap by the wayside, the duke’s chariot rattled upon the pavement, and the beggar’s benediction died away amidst the hum of the many noises. There is nothing here like the galaxy of shops of the Palais Royal, whose cafés tempt you with sumptuous refreshments, and richest gems glitter in all the hues of India and Peru; where superb frocks recommend themselves in the most seductive attitudes, the little shoe, silk stocking, and graceful garter, lurking behind, upon legs natural as life. But sometimes a shop flashes upon your view, of surpassing richness and beauty. Here is one all window, like a face all eyes, exhibiting shawls from the precious pastures of Cashmere; their labels gold and azure, burnished with the gas, a part of the decoration. Here too are stores of French novelties, and fashions; mantillas, mantillettes, mouseline unie et brochet; and miliners and mantuamakers seeking reputation under French names; transformed like Roderick Random’s faithful Strap, who became on his continental travels “Monsieur D’Estrappe.” Mrs. Duke is ‘Madame le Duc,’ and ‘Madame de Trottville’ was once Mrs. Trotter. The rest are lodging-houses, without fashionable notoriety.
In Paris, a great man may live in a little poking alley, and be a great man nevertheless. I have visited many a member of the Institute au 4”, in a chamber ten feet by eight. A street in America is a substitute for merit. Who in Girard-street, at eight hundred dollars, presumes to associate with the front on Chesnut, at twelve hundred Here is a clear, undisputed gentility of four hundred dollars per annum ! London is even more nice in this respect. To lodge east of Regent-street, would spoil the best blood of England. When you step into your carriage, put out your head and say loudly and distinctly, ‘Drive to St. James’ Place,” or Grosvenor, Portland, and Belgrave squares. It will inspire the coachman and lookers-on with an exalted opinion of your respectability: for after all, coachmen are but men.
“I HAVE now shown you Regent-street in its prettiest varieties. A pity it is such streets are not to be expected from the radical and levelling spirit of a republic.’ Why you are the most impudent god I was ever acquainted with ! You must be hen-pecked by your new bride, to disunite from republicanism any kind of refinement. You, who at Athens passed the morning in listening to Pericles in the Senate, strolled after dinner with Phidias to the Parthenon, went to a new piece of Sophocles in the evening, and to complete the day, supped at midnight with Aspasia. We now réentered the Quadrant. Sancta Veronica! what infinite girls’ . Not more leaves fall upon the plains of the Apallachian, nipped by the first frosts. Why they count of these same London Cyprians eighty thousand “Eighty thousand ‘ And why think you this extravagant!—you who have ten thousand at New-York’s The half of ours, too, are driven to this dishonor by extreme poverty, and yours y
Mercury, which of those stars is your mother o
“She at the side of Merope, who is a little dimmer than the rest, being the only one of the seven sisters who espoused a mortal.’
Here the Cyllenian god, his feathered cap in his hand, took a civil leave, and mounting astride of a moonbeam, resumed his station at the side of Britannia, upon the East India House. . . . Good night!