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- The Inns and Taverns of "Pickwick" - 2/19 -
or go, or how, or when, or why, or cares about us . . . where we have no individuality, but put ourselves into the general post, as it were, and are sorted and disposed of according to our division." That is more the modern method and is in direct contrast to the old coaching method, which, alas! may never return, of which the inns in Pickwick furnish us with glowing examples.
We certainly are coming back to these roadside inns in the present age of rapid motor transit; yet we are in too much of a tearing hurry to make the same use of the old inns as they did in the more leisurely age.
We believe these old inns attract to-day not only because of their quaintness and the old-world atmosphere which adheres to them, but because of the tradition which clings to them; and the most popular tradition of all, and the one of which the proprietors are most proud, is the Dickens tradition.
There are scores of such inns in the city of London and throughout the country whose very names immediately conjure up some merry scene in his books and revive never-to-be-forgotten memories of exhilarating incidents.
Time, the devastating builder, and the avaricious landlord have played havoc with many. Several, however, remain to tell their own tale, whilst the memory of others is sustained by a modern building bearing the old name, all of which are landmarks for the Dickens lover.
Many of them, of course, existed only in the novelist's fertile imagination; but most of them had foundation in reality, and most of them, particularly in Pickwick, are mentioned by name and have become immortal in consequence; and were it not for the popularity of his writings, their fame in many instances would have deserted them and their glory have departed.
Inns, hotels and wayside public-houses play a most important part in The Pickwick Papers, and many of the chief scenes are enacted within their walls. The book, indeed, opens in an hotel and ends in one. The first scene arising from the projected "journeys and investigations" of those four distinguished members of the Club took place in an hotel, or--to speak correctly--outside one, namely, the "Golden Cross" at Charing Cross. There is even an earlier reference to a public-house near St. Martin's le Grand, from where the "first cab was fetched," whilst the last important incident of the book was enacted in another, the Adelphi Hotel off the Strand, when Mr. Pickwick announced his determination to retire into private life at Dulwich.
In the ensuing pages, the Pickwickians are followed in the tours they made in pursuit of adventure, and the inns and taverns they stopped at are taken in the order of their going and coming. With each is recalled the story, adventure, or scene associated with it, and if it has any history of its own apart from that gained through the book, record is made of the facts concerning it.
The Pickwick Papers was completed in 1837, and a dinner was given to celebrate the event, at which Dickens himself presided and his friend, Serjeant T. N. Talfourd, to whom the book was dedicated, acted as vice-chairman. Ainsworth, Forster, Lover, Macready, Jerdan and other close friends were invited, and the dinner took place at The Prince of Wales Coffee House and Hotel in Leicester Place, Leicester Square.
It is very curious that no extended account of this historic event exists. Forster, in his biography of the novelist, beyond saying that "everybody in hearty good-humour with every other body," and that "our friend Ainsworth was of the company," is otherwise silent over the event. There is certainly a reference to the dinner in a letter from Dickens to Macready, dated from "48 Doughty Street, Wednesday Evening," with no date to it, in which he says:
"There is a semi-business, semi-pleasure little dinner which I intend to give at the 'Prince of Wales,' in Leicester Place, Leicester Square, on Saturday, at five for half-past precisely, at which Talfourd, Forster, Ainsworth, Jerdan, and the publishers will be present. It is to celebrate (that is too great a word, but I can think of no better) the conclusion of my Pickwick labours; and so I intend, before you take that roll upon the grass you spoke of, to beg your acceptance of one of the first complete copies of the work. I shall be much delighted if you will join us."
[illustration: The Prince of Wales Hotel, where the Pickwick dinner was held. Drawn by Arch. Webb]
We have seen a similarly worded letter written to Samuel Lover, and no doubt each guest received such an invitation from the novelist.
The only real account of the function is contained in a letter from Ainsworth to his friend, James Crossley, which is as follows:
"On Saturday last we celebrated the completion of The Pickwick Papers. We had a capital dinner, with capital wine and capital speeches. Dickens, of course, was in the chair. Talfourd was the Vice, and an excellent Vice he made. . . . Just before he was about to propose THE toast of the evening the headwaiter--for it was at a tavern that the carouse took place--entered, and placed a glittering temple of confectionery on the table, beneath the canopy of which stood a little figure of the illustrious Mr. Pickwick. This was the work of the landlord. As you may suppose, it was received with great applause. Dickens made a feeling speech in reply to the Serjeant's eulogy. . . . Just before dinner Dickens received a cheque for L750 from his publishers."
Although this hotel cannot rightly be termed a Pickwick inn in the same sense that the others in this book can, it certainly has a claim to honourable mention.
In 1823 the building in which this notable historic dinner took place was known as The Prince of Wales Coffee House and Hotel. When it ceased to be an hotel we are unable to state, but in 1890 it was a French Hospital and Dispensary, ten years later it was let out as offices, and in 1913 it was a foreign club; but the building is practically the same as it was in 1837.
THE "GOLDEN CROSS," CHARING CROSS
Before the "Golden Cross" was given such prominence in The Pickwick Papers, it formed the subject of one of the chapters in Dickens's previous book, Sketches by Boz. But although there is a "Golden Cross" still standing at Charing Cross to-day, and a fairly old inn to boot, it is not the actual one which figures in these two books and in David Copperfield.
As a matter of fact, there have been several "Golden Crosses" at Charing Cross; one, perhaps the first, stood in the village of Charing in 1643. But the one which claims our attention stood on the exact spot where now towers the Nelson Monument in Trafalgar Square, and was the busiest coaching inn in the west end of London. In front of it was the King Charles statue and the ancient cross of Charing. Close at hand was Northumberland House with its famous lion overlooking the scene.
This "Golden Cross" was either rebuilt in 1811 or in that year had its front altered to the Gothic style. Whichever is the case, it was this Gothic inn that Dickens knew and described in his books. It was demolished in 1827, or thereabouts, to make room for the improvements in the neighbourhood which developed, into the Trafalgar Square we all know to-day. It was then that the present building, facing Charing Cross Station, was erected, which, also in its turn, has had a new frontage.
Dickens in his early youth, whilst employed in a blacking warehouse at Hungerford Stairs and during his youthful wanderings, became intimately acquainted with the district. When, therefore, in the early 'thirties he commenced his literary career, he recalled those early days and placed on permanent record his impressions of what he then saw, amongst which was the Golden Cross Hotel.
And so we find that in writing the chapter in Sketches by Boz on "Early Coaches" he chooses the "Golden Cross" of his boyhood for its chief incident, an incident which no doubt happened to himself in his early manhood. He had risen early on a certain cold morning to catch the early coach to Birmingham--perhaps to fulfil one of his reporting engagements:
"It strikes 5:15," he says, "as you trudge down Waterloo Place on your way to the 'Golden Cross,' and you discover for the first time that you were called an hour too early. You have no time to go back, and there is no place open to go into, and you have therefore no recourse but to go forward. You arrive at the office. . . . You wander into the booking office. . . . There stands the identical book-keeper in the same position, as if he had not moved since you saw him yesterday. He informs you that the coach is up the yard, and will be brought round in about 15 minutes. . . . You retire to the tap-room. . . . for the purpose of procuring some hot brandy and water, which you do--when the kettle boils, an event which occurs exactly two and a half minutes before the time fixed for the starting of the coach. The first stroke of six peals from St. Martin's Church steeple as you take the first sip of the boiling liquid. You find yourself in the booking office in two seconds, and the tap waiter finds himself much comforted by your brandy and water in about the same period. . . . The horses are in. . . . The place which a few minutes ago was so still and quiet is all bustle. 'All right,' sings the guard. . . . and off we start as briskly as if the morning were all right as well as the coach."
One of Cruikshank's pictures illustrates the above scene in the booking office, and in it one of the figures represents Dickens himself as he appeared at the period. Dotted about on the walls are bills in which the name of the hotel is very conspicuous.
In chapter two of The Pickwick Papers we get a further glimpse of the inn, centring in a more exhilarating and epoch-making incident. The Pickwickians were to start on their memorable peregrinations from the "Golden Cross" for Rochester by the famous "Commodore" coach; and Mr. Pickwick having hired a cabriolet in the neighbourhood of his lodgings in Goswell Street arrived at the hotel in order to meet his friends for the purpose. On alighting, and having tendered his fare, an animated incident with the cabman, who accused him of being an informer, ensued, and ended in the assault and battery described in the following words:
"The cabman dashed his hat upon the ground with a reckless disregard of his own private property, and knocked Mr. Pickwick's spectacles off, and followed up the attack with a blow on Mr. Pickwick's nose
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