Echoes of the WeekThe Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1334, p. 271.
September 16, 1865
For many years, so those entitled to decide declare, London has not been so empty as it now is. There cannot be above two millions and a half of people left within the five miles' radius. I took lately, for the first time these many months, a walk down Regent-street and Oxford-street, by Waterloo-place to Charing-cross, and so through Whitehall and Parliament-street to Victoria-street. I was bound to do it, for I had with me an American friend who, although he had inhabited Paris for eleven years had never been in London before, and who was to leave the next day for New York viâ Liverpool. The depletion of the fashionable quarters was, to the eye of an experienced Londoner, as evident as on the Derby Day, otherwise the only day in the year on which Babylon seems positively empty. I was bound to show my Transatlantic friend all the lions in the space of about seven hours. So, with the assistance of another Londoner, we took him from Westminster to the Crystal Palace. There was nobody there. Then we hired a fly, and drove him across country through the exquisitely beautiful green lanes by Lewisham to Greenwich. There was nobody to speak of at the Ship, and we each had two waiters, speaking every European language, to attend upon us. It is something after all to be able to give a friend whitebait for the first time in his life. Our Yankee was quite a stranger to that delicious fish, if it be a fish, which I doubt. It was a sensation. "Well," he said, "it's the first time I ever ate twenty-four pair of eyes at a mouthful." When he heard our companion, who is a gourmet, order the waiter to be very particular in giving us "black devil," as well as "red devil," after the first instalment of "bait," he opened his eyes. Sensation the second. He started, too, the ingenious theory, which he at once put into practice, that whitebait are best eaten with the fingers, like the fried potatoes at the lake of Saratoga. I am sure Brillat Savarin, had he ever become acquainted with "bait," would have agreed with him. They won't give you a soup-ladle, and they are always slipping off the prongs of your fork. They are crisp and cleanly; what more do you require but nimble fingers and a table-napkin. I commend this hint to the notice of "Thalestris," the epicurean correspondent of the Pall Mall Gazette.
Now, when you have a foreigner with you, especially an American, you like to dine him at your club, do you not? There may be a spice of pardonable vanity in exhibiting to him the sumptuous palace, of which, in consideration of a payment of half a score guineas per annum, you are the twelve-hundredth part proprietor. Alas! the clubs have been given up to the scrubbers, and plasterers, and whitewashers. The carpets have been sent away to be beaten; the window-curtains have disappeared; the library-shelves are bookless; the gorgeous flunkeys are in mufti, and display their shapely calves in shorts and silks no more. A flunkey in mufti is as unseemly an object as a soldier on furlough, with his jacket unbuttoned and his neat stock replaced by a coloured neckerchief. The very hall porter has gone out of town for his holiday, and the page-boy who officiates as temporary janitor is not quite certain about your name and gives you somebody else's letters. This is the time for an adventurous stranger to risk the rash essay of exploring, uninvited, the penetralia of a London club.
The Athenæum is being completely restored, renovated, and beautified, inside and out; and, with its new coat of stucco and frieze cleared from the smoky accumulations of twenty years, makes a noble appearance at the corner of Pall-mall. The few members who remain in town are enjoying the courteous hospitality of the Senior United Service; but I am told that some of the waiters, accustomed even as they are to hot-spoken colonels and peppery major-generals, complain of the short tempers of the Athenæum bishops. A right reverend father over an ill-cooked chop must be fearful.
The mention of my Yankee friend reminds me that a very distinguished American officer and man of letters is sojourning among us just now. My readers may have seen a recent letter in the Times, signed "H. A. Wise," on that dreary topic of the treatment of Federal prisoners by the Confederates, and pointing out that which Northerners and Southerners alike should acknowledge as an undoubted fact--that the manuscript order to burn Richmond and slay Jefferson Davis alleged to have been found on the corpse of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, who fell in a Quixotic raid on the Confederate capital, was a wicked forgery. Mais laissons là ces misères. "H. A. Wise" is Captain, commonly called "Commodore" Wise, a very distinguished officer in the United States navy, the head of the Bureau of Ordnance at Washington, and the author of a most amusing book of travels in Mexico called "Los Gringos," and of a wonderfully-sensational nautical romance called "Captain Brand of the Centipede." To all English tourists who have visited Washington, and in particular to all those gentlemen who have been attached to her Majesty's Legations in that woful city, the name of kindly and humorous "Commodore" Wise must be familiar, and will awaken the pleasantest reminiscences.