« PreviousContinue »
family) which was suspended over his door. learn from Anthony Wood, who was only junior to Milton by a few years, that, in his time, foreigners used to pay a pilgrimage to the house in Bread Street, in which the poet first saw the light. Aubrey, also, another contemporary writer, informs us, "The only inducement of several foreigners that came over to England, was to see the Protector Oliver, and Mr. John Milton, and would see the house and chamber where he was born." Milton's father was himself a poet and a musician. "He was an ingenious man," says Aubrey, "delighted in music, and composed many songs now in print, especially that of Oriana," and Milton himself addresses him
Art skilful to associate verse with airs
In close affinity, we sympathize
In social arts and kindred studies sweet?
The house in which Milton was born, was burnt down in the great fire of 1666.
Bread Street derives its name from a bread market which was anciently held on its site; but in Stow's time, was entirely inhabited by "rich merchants;" and he adds, "diverse fair inns be there." In Basing Lane, Bread Street, stood Gerard's Hall, corrupted from Gisors Hall. In 1245,
it was the residence of John Gisors, Lord Mayor of London, and was long in the possession of his descendants. "On the south side of Basing Lane," says Stow, "is one great house of old time, built upon arched vaults, and with arched gates of stone, brought from Caen, in Normandy. The same is now a common hostelry for receipt of travellers, commonly and corruptly called Gerrardes-hall, of a giant said to have dwelt there. In the high-roofed hall of this house, sometime stood a large fir-pole, which reached to the roof thereof, and was said to be one of the staves that Gerrarde, the giant, used in the wars to run withal. There stood, also, a ladder of the same length, which (as they say) served to ascend to the top of a staff." Gerard's Hall, with its curious Norman crypt, is still used as an hostelry," under the name of the Gerard's Hall Hotel.
Lad Lane, in the immediate neighbourhood, is said to be a corruption from Lady Lane, so called from an image of the Virgin having anciently stood there. Stow, however, tells us that it should properly be called Ladle Street; Ladle Hall having anciently stood on its site.
In Bread Street stood the famous Mermaid Tavern, endeared to us by its association with some of the most illustrious names in the literature of our country.
At Bread Street's "Mermaid" having dined, and merry, Proposed to go to Holborn in a wherry.-BEN JONSON. Here was held the celebrated Mermaid Club,
at which Sir Walter Raleigh so often presided; where wit so often flashed from the lips of Shakespeare, Beaumont, and Ben Jonson; and where the author of "The Faery Queen," as the intimate friend of Raleigh, was doubtless often a guest. Gifford, speaking of the year 1603, observes, "About this time, Jonson probably began to acquire that turn for conviviality for which he was afterwards noted. Sir Walter Raleigh, previously to his unfortunate engagement with the wretched Cobham, and others, had instituted a meeting of beaux esprits, at the Mermaid, a celebrated tavern in Friday Street.* Of this club, which combined more talent and genius than ever met together before or since, our author was a member and here, for many years, he regularly repaired with Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Selden, Cotton, Carew, Martin, Donne, and many others, whose names, even at this distant period, call up a mingled feeling of reverence and respect." Beaumont, in a charming poetical epistle addressed to Ben Jonson, describes the "wit-combats" in which they had both of them so often borne a part in the Mermaid Tavern:
* This appears to be an error. At the time when Jonson penned this couplet there was also a "Mermaid" tavern in Cheapside, and apparently another in Friday Street. The "Mermaid" in Cornhill was also probably in existence at this period. Ben Jonson's expression, however, of "Bread Street's Mermaid," evidently proves that the "Mermaid" frequented by Jonson and his illustrious associates was in Bread Street."-See Cunningham's “London," Art. “Mermaid Tavern."
Methinks the little wit I had is lost
As if that every one from whence they came
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest
Of his dull life; then when there hath been thrown
For three days past,-wit that might warrant be
Till that were cancelled; and when that was gone
We left an air behind us, which alone
Was able to make the two next companies
Right witty; though but downright fools, more wise.
Ben Jonson has again celebrated the Mermaid Tavern, and its delicious Canary, in his delightful poem, "Inviting a Friend to Supper."
But that which most doth take my muse and me,
Which is the Mermaid's now, but shall be mine.
Of this we will sup free, but moderately,
Fuller, speaking of the "wit-combats" between Shakspeare and Jonson, observes, Many were the wit-combats between him and Ben Jonson; which two I behold like a Spanish great galleon
and an English man-of-war; Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow in his performances. Shakespeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention."
Friday Street, running parallel with Bread Street, is said to have been anciently inhabited almost entirely by fishmongers, and to have derived its name from the great quantity of business which was carried on there on a Friday-the fast-day of the Roman Catholics. In this street is the church of St. Matthew, Friday Street, a plain stone structure, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the destruction of the old edifice by the Fire of London.
Nearly opposite to Friday Street is Wood Street, at the corner of which may be seen a solitary tree, presenting a striking and refreshing appearance in this smoky and crowded district. It is interesting, moreover, as pointing out the site of the old church of St. Peter's at the Cross, which was destroyed by the great Fire.
At the end of King Street, running also northward out of Cheapside, is the Guildhall of the City of London. Previously to the year 1411, it was held in the street called Aldermanbury "I myself," says Stow, "have seen the ruins of the old court hall, in Aldermanbury Street, which of late hath been employed as a carpenter's yard."
The present edifice was commenced in 1410,