“I don’t know how much use it may be to you,” he said; “but if you care to have it, I should be very glad to give you a letter to the editor of The Fleet Street Review. He has, I think, a certain regard for me, and he might send you a book to do now and again. At all events, it would be something.”
Henry embraced the offer gratefully; and it occurred to him that in a day or two’s time there was a five days’ excursion running from Tyre to London and back, for half-a-guinea. Why not take it, and expend his last five pounds in a stimulating glimpse of the city he some day hoped to conquer? He could then see his friend the publisher, present his letter to the editor, and perhaps bring home with him some little work and a renewed stock of hopes.
So, before they parted that night, Mr. Gerard wrote him the letter.
“THIS IS LONDON, THIS IS LIFE”
Thus it was that, all unexpectedly, Henry found himself set down one autumn morning at the homeless hour of a quarter-to-seven, in Euston station. He was going to stay in some street off the Strand, and chartered a hansom to take him there. Few great cities are impressive in the neighbourhood of their railway termini. You enter them, so to speak, by the back door; and London waves no banners of bright welcome to the stranger who first enters it by the Euston Road.
But there was an interesting church presently, and on a dust-cart close by Henry read “Vestry of St. Pancras.”
“Can that be the St. Pancras’ Church,” he said to himself, “where Mary Wollstonecraft lies buried, and Browning was married?”
Then as they drove along through Bloomsbury, the name “Great Coram Street” caught his eye, and he exclaimed with delight: “Why, that’s where Thackeray lived for a time!”
Great Coram Street is little accustomed to create such excitement in the breast of the passer-by. But to the stranger London is necessarily first a museum, till he begins to love it as a home, and, in addition to dead men’s associations, begins to people it with memories of his own. When you have lived awhile in Gray’s Inn, you grow to forget that Bacon’s ghost is your fellow-tenant; and it is the kind-hearted provincial who from time to time lays those flowers on Goldsmith’s tomb. When you are caught in a block on Westminster Bridge, with only five minutes to get to Waterloo, you forget to say to yourself: “Ah, this is the bridge on which Wordsworth wrote his famous sonnet.” You usually say something quite different.
The mere names of the streets,—how laden with immemorial poetry they were! “Chancery Lane!” How wonderful! Yet the poor wretch standing outside the public-house at the corner seemed to derive small consolation from the fact that he was starving in Chancery Lane.
But to Henry, as yet, London was an extended Westminster Abbey, and every other street was Poet’s Corner. He had hardly patience to breakfast, so eager was he to be out in the streets; and while he ate, his eyes were out of the windows all the time, and his ears drinking in all the London morning sounds like music. At the foot of the street ran the Thames; he had caught a thrilling glimpse of it as he stepped from his cab, and had had a childish impulse to rush down to it before entering his hotel.