I have no intention of writing an autobiography. There has been nothing in my life which could justify such a pretension. But I have lived a long time. I remember an aged porter at the monastery of the “Sagro Eremo,” above Camaldoli, who had taken brevet rank as a saint solely on the score of his ninety years. His brethren called him and considered him as Saint Simon simply because he had been porter at that gate for more than sixty years. Now my credentials as a babbler of reminiscences are of a similar nature to those of the old porter. I have been here so many, many years. And then those years have comprised the best part of the nineteenth century—a century during which change has been more rapidly at work among all the surroundings of Englishmen than probably during any other century of which social history has to tell.
Of course middle-aged men know, as well as we ancients, the fact that social life in England—or rather let me say in Europe—is very different from what it was in the days of their fathers, and are perfectly well acquainted with the great and oftentimes celebrated causes which have differentiated the Victorian era from all others. But only the small records of an unimportant individual life, only the memories which happen to linger in an old man’s brain, like bits of drift-weed floating round and round in the eddies of a back-water, can bring vividly before the young of the present generation those ways and manners of acting and thinking and talking in the ordinary every-day affairs of life which indicate the differences between themselves and their grandfathers.
I was born in the year 1810 at No. 16, Keppel Street, Russell Square. The region was at that time inhabited by the professional classes, mainly lawyers. My father was a barrister of the Middle Temple to the best of my recollection, but having chambers in the Old Square, Lincoln’s Inn. A quarter of a century or so later, all the district in question became rather deteriorated in social estimation, but has, I am told, recently recovered itself in this respect under the careful and judicious administration of the Duke of Bedford. The whole region appeared to me, when I was recently in London, about the least changed part of the London of my youthful days. As I walked up Store Street, which runs in a line from Keppel Street to Tottenham Court Road, I spied the name of “Pidding, Confectioner.” I immediately entered the shop and made a purchase at the counter. “I did not in the least want this tart,” said I to the girl who was serving in the shop. “Why did you take it, then?” said she, with a little toss of her head. “Nobody asked you to buy it.” “I bought it,” rejoined I, “because I used to buy pastry of Mr. Pidding in this shop seventy years ago.” “Lor’, sir!” said the girl, “did you really?” She probably considered me to be the Wandering Jew.
I remember well that my father used to point out to me houses in Russell Square, Bedford Square, and Bloomsbury Square in which judges and other notable legal luminaries used to live. But even in those days the localities in question, especially the last named of them, were beginning to be deserted by such personages, who were already moving farther westward. The occasion of these walks with my father through the squares I have named—to which Red Lion Square might have been added—was one the painful nature of which has fixed it in my memory indelibly.