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London's Literary Associations


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What may to-day be regarded as London's literary landmarks range in point of time from the days of Chaucer to the days of Chesterton; spatially they may be regarded as extending from Southgate on the north, where Leigh Hunt was born, to Bromley on the south, which gave birth to H. G. Wells, and from Waltham-stow on the east, birthplace of William Morris, to Ealing on the west, where Huxley was born. A full guide to London's places, of literary association would call for something not far short of a catalogue of all streets with more than half a century of history behind them. Yet so incessant is the change going on in London's material details, that to limit any survey to such landmark-buildings as remain would very inadequately represent London's peculiarly rich associations in this respect.

London's record as the birthplace of genius is very remarkable - while some of its most intimate literary associations are with men who only became Londoners by devotion and adoption. Within the narrow limits of the ancient City, to give but a London "baker's dozen" of names, were born Chaucer (Upper Thames Street), Spenser (East Smith field), Donne (probably near Bread Street), Herrick (Cheap-side), Sir Thomas Browne (near Cheapside), Milton (Bread Street), Pepys (Salisbury Court), Defoe (Cripplegate), Pope (Lombard Street), Gray (Corn-hill), Lamb (the Temple), Keats (Finsbury Pave-ment), and Thomas Hood (the Poultry). Comparatively speaking, London may perhaps be regarded as poor in existing literary "shrines" - but it has itself become a shrine.

London's literary associations begin before the coming of the printing-press, for in Thames Street, by the foot of Dowgate Hill, stood the house in which Geoffrey Chaucer was born, while across the river in Southwark stood the Tabard Inn, whence his pilgrims journey immortally toward Canterbury. In a house hard by Westminster Abbey he passed his later years, and in the Abbey he was buried - his being the first interment to give its special character to Poets' Corner. The tomb of Chaucer's older contemporary, John Gower, may be seen in Southwark Cathedral, and though little is known of his younger contemporary, John Lydgate, with that singer's "London Lackpenny" we may pass through the city of over five centuries ago, and find that law was on sale at Westminster, velvets and;|f stuffs were sold in Cheap-side, drapery wares in Cannon Street, food in Eastcheap and "stolen gear" in Cornhill.

With the coming of printing we are again at Westminster, for in the Almonry there - on the site now covered by the Wesleyan Central Hall - William Caxton set up the first printing-press in England, and there probably he died, being buried in an unidentified grave in S. Margaret's Church, where are to be seen a tablet and a stained-glass window to his memory. Wynkyn de Worde, who succeeded his master Caxton at Westminster, later moved his press to Fleet Street, and there in turn his assistants Pynson and Copland set up their presses, and ever since for four centuries has Fleet Street deserved its but lately-bestowed title, the Street of Ink.

Of Shakespeare's London, apart from the sites of the old theatres in Shoreditch, Cripplegate and Bankside, we have little beyond tradition. Only this century evidence was discovered that for probably more than six years Shakespeare lodged over the shop of a wig-maker at the corner of Monkwell Street and Silver Street by Cripplegate - and that during the period in which he wrote ten of his plays, including "Hamlet" and "Othello," a fact which makes the spot one of the most famous of all our landmarks. It is at least a coincidence worthy of mention that Shakespeare gave the name of Mountjoy to the French herald in "Henry V," the first play which he wrote while lodging with Mountjoy the French wig-maker.

A short walk from the corner of Monkwell and Silver Streets down Wood Street will take us to Cheapside, opposite where of old stood that Mermaid Tavern at which Shakespeare, Raleigh, Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher a.nd their fellows made merry and indulged in "wit combats" that have been celebrated by one of their number. Cheapside, it would seem, was then the centre of literary London, which shifted to Fleet Street after Ben Jonson set up his Apollo Club at the Devil Tavern by Temple Bar. Jonson himself was a Londoner, inasmuch as Westminster, in which he was born, is part of London, and Westminster Abbey is the place of his burial.

Something of a link between the time of the taverns of the Elizabethans and that of the coffeehouses of a century later may be found in John Milton Most of Milton's life was that of a Londoner - and one of many removals. He was born in Bread Street at the sign of the Spread Eagle, and christened at the demolished All Hallows Church (see a tablet on Bow Church, Cheapside). He had many London homes which have vanished; one of the later ones, in Petty France, Westminster, became afterwards 19 York Street, and had subsequent associations with Jeremy Bentham, James Mill and William Hazlitt, and was demolished only about half a century ago. Milton finally moved to Artillery Walk, near Bunhill Fields, where he died. He is buried in S. Giles' Church, Cripplegate. John Bunyan, Milton's younger contemporary, whose story of man's upward pilgrimage may be said to outrival in its human appeal the poet's epic of man's original downfall, died in the house of a friend at Snow Hill, Holborn, and was buried in Bunhill Fields.

It is far more often "sites" than buildings that are left for our visiting. The Great Fire of 1666 swept away many of the older of London's places of literary association, and notably the birthplace of the diarist Samuel Pepys, to whom we owe the most vivid descriptions of that fire. That Pepys was born in a house on the east side of Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, was only definitely established a few years ago. He began his famous diary when living in Axe Yard off King Street, Westminster; when he became Clerk of the Acts for the Navy he removed to a house in Seething Lane near the Tower. Afterwards he occupied a house in York Buildings, Strand, and retired to Clapham, where he died. He is buried in S. Olave's, Hart Street, where may be seen a modern memorial to him, and the memorial which he put up for his wife.

Of the acknowledged writers of the time of Pepys many have London associations as natives, as residents, and as habitues of those chocolate and coffee-houses that came to be the vogue during his later years and were firmly established as literary centres in the early part of the eighteenth century. For a considerable period most of the men of note were to be met with at one or other of the more celebrated coffee-houses - "Will's," "Tom's" and "Button's" (the proprietor of which was an old servant of Addison's) were all situated in Russell Street, Covent Garden, the "Grecian" and another "Tom's" in the Strand, while "Garraway's" and yet a further "Tom's" were noted centres in the City. "Will's," at the western corner of Russell Street and Bow Street, was the centre chiefly associated with Dryden, whose London dwelling-places included Gerrard Street, Soho, and Fetter Lane, and whose last resting-place was Westminster Abbey. To Will's, as a boy, Alexander Pope caused himself to be taken that he might look upon the dominating Dryden - to whose dominion he was destined to succeed, and of Will's Addison, Steele and their literary friends were frequenters, as they were also of that most famous of the westerly coffee-houses, the St. James's, which stood at the south-western corner of St. James's Street. This famous street later became the fashionable centre of the "dandies."

Many of the men who made the fame of the coffee-houses as literary centres have left memories in other parts of the metropolis. Addison, who went to school at the Charterhouse, after living in the house at Chelsea which had once been the home of Nell Gwyn, married the Countess of Warwick and went to Holland House, where he died. A monument to his memory may be seen at Westminster Abbey, where he is buried, while Addison Road is his nominal memorial. Addison's lifelong friend, Sir Richard Steele - twinned with him in literary fame - came to London as a boy, and also went to school at the Charterhouse.

Among the places intimately associated with him were a house in Bury Street, "third door, right hand, turning out of Jermyn Street"; one in Villiers Street, Strand, where he set up a periodical conversazione; and "The Hovel," at Hampton Wick. Alexander Pope was a true Londoner. He was born in Lombard Street, but at about the age of twelve his family removed to Binfield, and only returned to London sixteen years later, when Mawson's Buildings, Chiswick, became the poet's home. Three years after he built that "villa" on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham which was his home for the rest of his life. He died there, and is buried in Twickenham church. The Grub Street where dwelt many of the poor authors satirised by Pope was near Cripplegate. Its name was somewhat foolishly changed last century to Milton Street.

The first great literary figure whose name was to become attached to the London of his period - for "Shakespeare's London" denotes an historical phase rather than a personal domination - was Samuel Johnson, who, having been taken thither at the age of two that he might be "touched for the King's evil" by Queen Anne, returned to London at the age of twenty-eight "with twopence-halfpenny in his pocket"! To follow him in his earlier changes of lodgings would take us to many places from near Cavendish Square to Greenwich before reaching that Fleet Street neighbourhood to which he belongs. There he lived at Gough Square (ten years), 1 Inner Temple Lane (now Johnson Building), 7 Johnson's Court (which had its name from the ground landlord of an earlier date), and 8 Bolt Court, where he died and whence he was taken to Westminster Abbey for burial.

Of the many one-time homes of Samuel Johnson that in Gough Square remains much as it was when he lived in it, and is happily preserved as a shrine for the housing of memorials of the man who declared that "when a man is tired of London he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford." The whole of Fleet Street and its neighbourhood is, in effect, a memorial to Dr. Johnson, so closely does his name attach to it. From the church of S. Clement Danes, where an annual service on December 13 commemorates his death, and where a somewhat dumpy statue of Johnson fronts towards Fleet Street, to S. Paul's Cathedral, wherein he stands in marble effigy, toga-clad, Johnsonian memories may be evoked. We may recall his clubs in Ivy Lane, at the Queen's Arms in S. Paul's Churchyard, at the Essex Head m Essex Street; we may sit in his traditional seat in the Cheshire Cheese.

There are other London places to which we may be drawn for their Johnsonian association, for at South-wark, at Streatham, and in Grosvenor Square, in the homes of his friends the Thrales, a room was set aside for him; and there is Gerrard Street, Soho, where the Literary Club foregathered at the Turk's Head, and in the same street his friend Edmund Burke had his home for many years.

The most notable of the literary members of Johnson's circle has London associations not less interesting. Oliver Goldsmith's earliest London landmarks are vague. He was assistant to a chemist on Fish Street Hill; a poor physician to the poor at Bankside, probably in the Axe Yard there; an assistant at a Peckham school; and a reviewer "living in" in Paternoster Row. Apart from the gatherings of the Literary Club and other places where he formed one of the circle, the places specially memorable for linking us with Goldsmith are the Canonbury Tower, where he worked for Bookseller Newbury, and the Temple, where he lived successively in Garden Court, King's Bench Walk, and at 2 Brick Court, where he had rooms on the second floor and where he died. He was buried in the graveyard of the Temple Church, it is believed somewhere hear where the simple tombstone inscribed with his name is to be seen to the north of the church, in which there is a memorial tablet. A monument to him - the medallion by Nollekens, the epitaph by Dr. Johnson - was put up in Westminster Abbey by his friends of the Literary Club.

In Charles Lamb we have a very special Londoner; not only one of the four authors who have given their names each as it were to a London of his own, but the only one of them who was a Londoner by birth. He was born in the Temple (2 Crown Office Row), and in it passed a goodly part of his life, his dwellings there being 16 Mitre Court Buildings and 4 Inner Temple Lane. At Christ's Hospital in Newgate Street he and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were together "blue-coat boys," while opposite the school was the Salutation and Cat, where they foregathered in post-school days. Where "Thread-needle Street abuts upon Bishopsgate" was the South Sea House in which Lamb clerked it for about six months, and in Leadenhall Street the East India House wherein he did so for thirty-three years.

His successive homes, when not in the Temple, will take us to the western side of the northern end of Kingsway, whereabouts was that Little Queen Street at No. 7 in which Lamb lived as a youth, and where the tragedy of his mother's death befell. Twice Lamb lodged for short periods in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, and for six years he and his sister had rooms over the shop at the west corner of Russell Street, Covent Garden, and Bow Street - which had once been Will's coffee-house. At Chapel Street, Pentonville, Lamb had earlier lodged successively at 45 and 36, and from Russell Street returned to the Islington neighbourhood at Colebrook Cottage, Colebrook Row, the only one of his homes in London now standing much as when he lived there. From there he and his sister went to a house at Chaseside, Enfield, then lodged with their whilom next-door neighbours there, and finally moved to -Church Street, Edmonton, "three or four miles nearer the Great City," where Charles Lamb died. He and his sister lie buried in the Edmonton churchyard.

John Keats, who through poetry opened magic casements on a world of beauty, was a thorough Londoner. He was born, the son of a livery stable keeper, at the sign of the Swan and Hoop, 24 the Pavement, Moorfields (now Finsbury Pavement), and was baptised at S. Botolph's, Bishopsgate. As a boy he was at Edmonton or at school at Enfield, was apprenticed to a surgeon at Edmonton, but got his indentures cancelled and went to study at the hospitals, lodging at 8 Dean Street, Borough, over a tallow-chandler's shop in St. Thomas's Street, and after becoming a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (in the hall of which society in Water Lane his portrait hangs) he lodged at 76 Cheapside.

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Pictures for London's Literary Associations

HOUSE IN GOUGH SQUARE WHERE DR. JOHNSON LIVED. A MUSEUM OF HIS LITERARY RELICS
HOUSE IN GOUGH SQUARE WHERE DR. JOHNSON LIVED. A MUSEUM OF HIS LITERARY RELICS >>>>
JOHNSON'S STATUE, CLEMENT DANES
JOHNSON'S STATUE, CLEMENT DANES >>>>
HOLLAND HOUSE, KENSINGTON, WHERE ONCE ADDISON LIVED AS MASTER
HOLLAND HOUSE, KENSINGTON, WHERE ONCE ADDISON LIVED AS MASTER >>>>
THE HOUSE AT HAMPSTEAD WHERE KEATS COMPOSED HIS
THE HOUSE AT HAMPSTEAD WHERE KEATS COMPOSED HIS "ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE" >>>>
THE PICCADILLY HOME OF LORD BYRON
THE PICCADILLY HOME OF LORD BYRON >>>>
THE SITE OF CAXTON'S FIRST PRESS
THE SITE OF CAXTON'S FIRST PRESS >>>>
THE HOUSE IN BRICK COURT WHERE OLIVER GOLDSMITH DIED, AND THE STATUE TO JOHN MILTON AT S. GILES, CRIPPLEGATE
THE HOUSE IN BRICK COURT WHERE OLIVER GOLDSMITH DIED, AND THE STATUE TO JOHN MILTON AT S. GILES, CRIPPLEGATE >>>>
CARLYLE, THE SAGE OF CHELSEA. HIS MONUMENT AND THE HOUSE IN CHEYNE ROW WHERE HE LIVED AND WROTE
CARLYLE, THE SAGE OF CHELSEA. HIS MONUMENT AND THE HOUSE IN CHEYNE ROW WHERE HE LIVED AND WROTE >>>>
YE OLDE CHESHIRE CHEESE; LAMB'S HOUSE AT ISLINGTON, AND SITE OF OLD GLOBE THEATRE
YE OLDE CHESHIRE CHEESE; LAMB'S HOUSE AT ISLINGTON, AND SITE OF OLD GLOBE THEATRE >>>>
THE TWICKENHAM HOUSE ON THE SITE OF POPE'S
THE TWICKENHAM HOUSE ON THE SITE OF POPE'S "VILLA" >>>>
THACKERAY'S HOUSE IN YOUNG STREET
THACKERAY'S HOUSE IN YOUNG STREET >>>>
DICKENS HOUSE AND LIBRARY IN BLOOMSBURY
DICKENS HOUSE AND LIBRARY IN BLOOMSBURY >>>>

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