Kew Gardens: With 24 full-page Illustrations in Colour

Cover image




By G. F. Nicholls and Francis Duckworth


By Henry B. Wimbush and F. J. Snell


By C. E. Hannaford and Charles Rowe, M.J.I.


By James Faed, Jun., and J. M. Sloan


By Francis S. Walker, R.H.A., and Frank Mathew


By J. Hamilton Hay and Dixon Scott


By W. Biscombe Gardner and A. R. Hope Moncrieff





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Kew Gardens contain what seems the completest botanical collection in the world, handicapped as it is by a climate at the antipodes of Eden, and by a soil that owes less to Nature than to patient art. Before being given up to public pleasure and instruction, this demesne was a royal country seat, specially favoured by George III. That homely King had two houses here and began to build a more pretentious palace, a design cut short by his infirmities, but for which Kew might have usurped the place of Windsor. For nearly a century it kept a close connection with the Royal Family, as the author illustrates in his story of the village and the Gardens, while the artist has found most effective subjects in the rich vegetation gathered into this enclosure and in the relics of its former state.




Royal Residences 1
Kew in Favour 31
The Story of the Gardens 83
The Village: In and about It 113
Visiting the Gardens 157




1. The Rhododendron Dell Frontispiece
2. The Wild Garden in Spring 8
3. The Lake 18
4. The Queen’s Cottage 30
5. In Queen’s Cottage Gardens 34
6. Looking up the Thames 42
7. The Pagoda 58
8. The Water-Lily Pond 64
9. The Palace 78
10. In the Italian Garden 90
11. The Ruined Arch 96
12. The Azaleas 102
13. The Peonies 108
14. The Palm Trees and Main Gate 112
15. The Rhododendron Walk 124
16. The Poppy Beds 138
17. The Rosary 146
18. Wild Hyacinths 152
19. In the Rock Garden 158
[x]20. The Palm House 164
21. The Greenhouse 172
22. Wild Flowers in the Beech Woods 176
23. The Lake, looking South 198
24. The Herbaceous Ground 200




The most conspicuous feature of Kew is its Pagoda, from many points seen towering over the well-wooded flat watered by a winding reach of the Thames. Such an outlandish structure bears up the odd name in giving a suggestion of China, not contradicted by the elaborate cultivation around, where all seems market-garden that is not park, buildings, groves or flower-beds. Yet the name, of old written as Kaihough, Kaiho, Kayhoo, and in other quaint forms—for which quay of the howe or hough has been guessed as original—belongs to a thoroughly English parish, whose exotic vegetation, nursed upon a poor soil, came to be twined among many national memories. These, indeed, are most closely packed about what may be called[2] the willow-plate pattern period of our history, when a true-blue conservatism had the affectation of letting itself be spangled with foreign amenities and curiosities, jumbled together without much regard for perspective or natural surroundings.

Before coming to the Gardens that are its present fame, we should understand how Kew, even in its days of obscurity, had all along to do with great folk. Almost every line of our kings has had a home in this Thames-side neighbourhood, a distinction dating from before the Conquest. Both Kew and Richmond began parochial life as dependencies of Kingston, the King’s town that once made a chief seat of Saxon princes, whose coronation stone bears record in its market-place. The manor, included with that of Sheen—the modern Richmond—was held by the Crown at Doomsday. For a time it seems to have passed into the hands of subjects, but there are hints of the first Edwards having a country home at Sheen. Edward III. certainly died at a palace said to have been built by him here. Richard II.’s first queen, Anne of Bohemia, also died at Sheen, to her husband’s so great grief that he cursed the building in the practical form of ordering it to be[3] destroyed. Henry IV. left it in ruins, and is said to have had a house at Isleworth across the river; but by his son Sheen was restored to royal state. While Henry VII. occupied it, the palace was destroyed by fire; then in rebuilding it, this king changed its name to Richmond after his Yorkshire earldom, itself another of the beauty-spots of the kingdom. Yet the old name, probably a cousin of the German schön, long fitly lingered in poetry—“Thy hill, delightful Sheen!” is Thomson’s invocation—and it still survives in East Sheen, which, once a hamlet of Richmond, like Kew, now begins to count rather as a suburb of London. Sheen House here had a later connection with quasi-royalty, as it was for a time occupied by the Count de Paris, heir of the Orleans family, that has hereabouts found other temporary refuges.

In Henry VIII.’s reign, the Crown gained a new seat in this neighbourhood, Hampton Court, too pretentious monument of Wolsey’s pride. At the first signs of the storm that was to wreck him, the swelling Churchman took in sail by giving up his palace to the king, who in return allowed him quarters in one of the royal lodges at Richmond, from which, as the king’s[4] displeasure deepened, he was banished, first to Esher, finally to his archiepiscopal northern diocese. Within the hunting-park formed by Henry about Hampton, was a lodge at Hanworth that became the home of his wife Catherine Parr, when she had the luck to be his widow.

One most picturesque figure in English history must have been familiar with Kew, though its name does not appear in the sad story of fair, wise and pious Lady Jane Grey, the “nine days’ queen.” On the spindle side, she was grand-daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, married to Henry VIII.’s sister Mary, through whom came her heritage of peril. Her father, Marquis of Dorset, was created Duke of Suffolk, and succeeded to Suffolk House at Sheen. The scene of Roger Ascham’s notable visit to the studious princess was Bradgate in Leicestershire; but part of her youth would probably be spent at Suffolk House. The boy husband provided for her, Guildford Dudley, was son of a neighbour across the river, the crafty and ambitious Duke of Northumberland, who had secured Syon House here as a share of Church plunder first granted to the Protector[5] Somerset. On Edward VI.’s death, not without suspicion of poison, Northumberland kept the event secret for three days, in hope of being able to seize the princesses Mary and Elizabeth, before carrying out his plot to put Jane and her newly wedded husband on the throne. It seems to have been at Syon that the reluctant queen was informed of the part she had to play; and thence she was taken by water to the Tower, in which she would find a heavenly crown.

Both Mary and Elizabeth lived from time to time at Richmond, recommended by its nearness to London, and by the river that made a royal highway in that age of bad roads. Here Elizabeth died, and from her death-bed Sir Robert Carey spurred through thick and thin to carry news of his inheritance to the King of Scots. James I. was not the man to neglect such a good hunting country; early in his reign we find the Courts of Law and all seated for a time at Richmond, when driven out of London by the plague. But Hampton Court up the river, as Greenwich below, seems to have been preferred for the king’s residence; then that lover of the chase found a paradise more to his mind in Theobald’s Park, near Enfield, for which he[6] exchanged Hatfield with the Salisbury family; and this became his favourite abode. Richmond he gave to be the home of his son Henry, who from it dates a pretty letter to the Dauphin of France, all the twelve-year-old boy’s own composition, we are told, for the learned father would let him have no help. Prince Henry might not have been pleased to hear all that was said of him in the French nursery, where little Louis asked about his correspondent—“Is he called the Prince of Wales (Galles) because he is mangy (galeux)?”

Monsieur and Brother,—Having heard that you begin to ride on horseback, I believed that you would like to have a pack of little dogs, which I send you, to witness the desire I have that we may be able to follow the footsteps of the kings, our fathers, in entire and firm friendship, also in this sort of honourable and praiseworthy recreation. I have begged the Count de Beaumont, who is returning there, to thank in my name the king your father, and you also for so many courtesies and obligations with which I feel myself overcharged, and to declare to you how much power you have over me, and how much I am desirous to find some good occasion to show the readiness of my affection to serve you, and for that, trusting in Him, I pray God, Monsieur and brother, to give you in health long and happy life.—Your very affectionate brother and servitor,


Richmond, 23rd October 1605.


This prince, we know, died young, according to one tradition through rash bathing in the Thames; but a modern physician has diagnosed the indications of his illness as typhoid fever. Richmond then passed to his brother Charles, who was much at home here and at Hampton Court. He, as king, made a new enclosure, the present Richmond Park, a hunting-ground nine miles round, formed by somewhat high-handed expropriations recalling the harsher dealings of William Rufus with the New Forest, and going to make up this king’s unpopularity. When poor Charles himself had been hunted down, the royal abode at Richmond was sold to one of the regicides, Sir Gregory Norton, the new Great Park being given over by Parliament to the citizens of London, who, at the Restoration, restored this gift to Charles II. with a courtly declaration that they had kept it as stewards of his Majesty. The Park was now put under a Ranger; and the Palace fell into neglect, though, according to Burnet, James II.’s son, the Pretender, was nursed in it. Nothing of its old state remains but the Gateway on Richmond Green, above which may be traced the arms of England, as borne by Henry VII. The adjacent[8] row of houses, still known as the “Maids of Honour,” also the cheesecakes of that ilk, appear to record the later day when Queen Caroline’s home at Richmond was so cramped as not to allow of her ladies “living in.”

As Richmond decayed, Hampton Court flourished in royal favour; and Cromwell, in his days of mastery, made bold with its ample accommodations. Its canals and garden took the fancy of Dutch William, who in England felt most at home here. His fatal accident he met with while riding in its park; and in the palace was born the only one of Queen Anne’s many children who grew towards any hope of the crown. George I. was a good deal at Hampton Court, it being recorded of him that on his way to London he used to make his carriage drive slowly through Brentford, for which he had an admiration shared by few beholders.


George II. as Prince of Wales, acquired for his wife another seat in this princely countryside, buying from the Duke of Ormond a house in the Old Deer Park beyond Kew Gardens, which, re-christened Richmond Lodge, made a royal home at intervals for nearly half a century.[9] Richmond was looked on as Queen Caroline’s property, the expensive improvements on it supposed to be paid out of her private purse, though, if we may trust Horace Walpole, one of his father’s ways of securing her favour was to draw from the King’s close-buttoned pocket, on the sly, for this purpose. After the death of the managing Queen, Richmond was little used, but for a weekly visit from the Court. Every Saturday in summer, says that mocking Horace, “they went in coaches and six in the middle of the day, with the heavy Horse Guards kicking up the dust before them, dined, walked an hour in the garden, returned in the same dusty parade; and His Majesty fancied himself the most gallant and lively prince in Europe.” It had been his wife’s favourite residence; and there Scott should surely have put her interview with Jeanie Deans; but he seems to mistake in placing Richmond Lodge within the present Park, whereas it was on low land beside the river, where now stands the Observatory; then to reach it from London the Duke of Argyll would never have taken his horses up Richmond Hill merely by way of gratifying the dairymaid with a fine view, which after all, appealed most to[10] her taste as “braw rich feeding for the cows.” Sir Walter must have had the White Lodge in view, yet without considering that it is half an hour’s walk from the Richmond Hill edge of the Park.

George II. and Caroline sometimes lived at Hampton Court, as when their eldest son gave them deadly offence by secretly carrying off his wife thence to lie-in at St. James’s. And it was there that, in Frederick William fashion, the King once struck his eldest grandson, a memory that is said to have given George III. his dislike to this palace. He let it fall to its present position as a mixture of Cockney show-place and aristocratic almshouse, while he much affected Richmond Lodge, till he got possession of his boyhood’s home at Kew.

So at last we come to the Kew mansion, whose connection with royalty was comparatively a late one, and lasted only for two generations. The reader must bear in mind that this was not the present Kew Palace, which hardly seems to deserve such a title of pretence. The latter had belonged to Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and was sold by him to Sir Hugh Portman, a rich Holland merchant, who rebuilt or altered it in[11] the Dutch style, so that it was commonly known as the Dutch House. By some local inquirers it has been identified with the “Dairy House” also mentioned in old books. Opposite this, on the other side of a public road, in the seventeenth century stood a larger mansion, Kew House, as to the original date of which one is not clear, but it may have been at least on the site of a mansion at which her Lord Keeper, Sir John Puckering, entertained Queen Elizabeth. Under Charles II., when Evelyn calls it an “old timber house,” it came by marriage to Sir Henry Capel of the Essex family, afterwards Lord Capel, who died Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. From his widow, it passed into possession of Samuel Molyneux, described as secretary to George II., soon after whose death, in 1730, it was taken on a long lease by Frederick Prince of Wales.

Thus the obscure name of Kew began to appear in the scandalous chronicles of the Georgian period. Frederick’s parents, it will be remembered, were much at the neighbouring Richmond Lodge; and when Queen Caroline took a lease of the Dutch House also, this not very affectionate royal family had a group of residences too close together, one might think,[12] for their comfort. The official guide states that at one time Frederick, too, must have occupied the Dutch House, as shown by his cipher and the device of Prince of Wales’s feathers on the locks; but I can find no mention of his living here in memoirs of the period. It may be that he had it for a time before his marriage; but the other was the house occupied by him as a family man, and by his widow after him.

There is some mystery about the origin of the extraordinary ill-will shown both by George II. and Caroline towards their heir, a feeling surpassing the antipathy between father and son that made an heirloom in this family for generations. The King tried to keep Frederick from coming to England; then, later on, he was half-willing to cut off Hanover from the English Crown that it might be bestowed upon his favourite, William of Cumberland. The eldest son he usually abused as a puppy, a fool, a beast, and by other such elegant epithets; while the Queen, if we are to believe Lord Hervey, offered once to give him her opinion in writing “that my dear first-born is the greatest ass and the greatest liar, and the greatest canaille, and the greatest beast in the whole world, and that I[13] most heartily wish he was out of it.” Yet, when father and son were not on speaking terms, all the family lived together at St. James’s, till, after the birth of the Prince’s first child, he was turned out at short notice to take refuge at Kew, and at makeshift London residences which became in turn the head-quarters of the Opposition. One would suppose that in the country those cat-and-dog neighbours might have chosen to have at least a river between them; but at Kew they were separated only by a road.

Kew House, then, began to figure in history as the country-seat of the Prince of Wales. Frederick was by no means a model husband nor a princely man; but he had affection and respect for his wife, the Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, and they at least lived decently together. Here were in part brought up their children: George III.; Edward, Duke of York, who died abroad in 1767; William Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who lived to 1805; Henry, Duke of Cumberland, who, as well as the last-mentioned, came into disfavour through a mésalliance; Prince Frederick and Princess Louisa, who both died young; and Caroline Matilda, who married the worthless King of Denmark, and had a miserable[14] end. Horace Walpole sneers at Frederick’s desire to name his children from heroes of English history, not always with his father’s approval; but this trait goes to show the Prince’s aspirations to be a patriotic king. He is said to have taken the “Black Prince” as a model he got no chance of following, perhaps as well for his possible subjects; but the scanty records of his career suggest rather one of Browning’s characters:—

All that the old Dukes were without knowing it,
This Duke would fain know he was without being it.

During the married life of Frederick and Augusta, the memoirs of the time give slight and sometimes rather spiteful hints of their doings at Kew, as to which, indeed, Lord Hervey’s caustic pen has no worse to tell than that they walked three or four hours daily in the lanes and fields about Richmond, with a scandal-blown lady-in-waiting and a dancing-master for company. The Prince was much given to private theatricals, but also to athletic games, among them such innocent ones as rounders, tennis, and base-ball, the last not yet banished across the Atlantic. The dog given to him by[15] Pope is remembered by the couplet inscribed on its collar:—

I am His Highness’s dog at Kew,
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

This poet-neighbour boasted himself not a follower but a friend of His Highness, who did not want for two-legged dogs wagging their tails to him in town and country, on the speculation that his father’s death might any day change the tap of honour and profit. But all such expectations were nipped short. In March 1751 the Prince caught cold at Kew, and had symptoms of pleurisy. Supposed to be out of danger, he went back to Kew, where he walked about like a convalescent; but the same night, after returning to town, showed signs of a fresh chill. Again he seemed to be on the mend, then suddenly one evening was seized with a violent fit of coughing. “Je sens la mort!” he exclaimed, and these were his last words. It proved that a tumour had burst, produced either by a fall or by a blow from a tennis ball three years before.

“Thus,” says Horace Walpole, “died Frederick, Prince of Wales, having resembled his pattern the Black Prince in nothing but in[16] dying before his father.” He appears to have been not unpopular with the mob, as princes are apt to be who make the money fly; but history has no good to tell of him, unless one kindly act in his intercession for Flora Macdonald. Scholars and divines duly lamented him with overdone effusions in the Tu Marcellus eris vein; but these crocodile tears of the Muses are less well-remembered than that uncourtly epitaph that seems to have better expressed the not even lukewarm loyalty of the first Georgian generation:—

Here lies Fred
Who was alive and is dead.
Had it been his father,
I had much rather.
Had it been his brother,
Still better than another.
Had it been his sister,
No one would have missed her.
Had it been the whole generation,
Still better for the nation.
But since ’tis only Fred,
Who was alive and is dead,
There’s no more to be said.

George II. behaved at first not unkindly to his widowed daughter-in-law and grandchildren. He visited the bereaved family, throwing off royal ceremonial, kissed them, wept with them,[17] and gave the princes good advice: “They must be brave boys, obedient to their mother, and deserve the fortune to which they were born.” Horace Walpole remarks in his malicious way that the King, who had never acted the tender father, grew so pleased with playing the part of grandfather that he soon became it in earnest. For the moment, natural good-feeling reigned in the families that had been such bad neighbours. The Opposition was crushed by the death of its patron, the Prince; and the discordant place-hunters of the day let themselves be tuned to a comparative harmony of interest under the Pelham brothers, who now had all their own way. Later on there sprang up fresh clouds between Kew and Kensington, the respective horizons of the rising and of the setting sun. For a little, Prince George appears to have lived with his grandfather at Hampton Court; but they did not take to each other, and the boy went back under his mother’s wing.

The first care of the King and the Ministry was to appoint instructors for the young Princes, an important choice in the case of the Heir to the Crown. The Governor appointed was Lord Harcourt, who “wanted a governor himself,”[18] says Horace Walpole, and sneers at him as unfit to “teach the young Prince any arts but what he knew himself—hunting and drinking.” For Preceptor was chosen the Bishop of Norwich. Under these figure-heads were the tutors who should be about the royal children and do the actual work of education. Stone, the sub-governor, was a personal favourite of the King, “a dark, proud man, very able and very mercenary.” As sub-preceptor, or real schoolmaster, was kept on Mr. Scott, who had already been chosen by the Princess to teach her sons, when she found that at eleven Prince George could not read English. Of him, in old age, George III. spoke highly, and seems to have liked him best of all his instructors. But he was suspected in some quarters as recommended by Bolingbroke, the author of that “patriot-king” theory so abhorrent to Whigs.


The question of the Regency had to be settled, in case of the King’s death before his grandson came of age. That high office might have fallen to George II.’s brother, the Duke of Cumberland, between whom and his sister-in-law, the Princess of Wales, no love was lost; nor was he beloved by the nation, least of all by the Jacobites.[19] Horace Walpole tells a story of Prince George visiting his uncle. “To amuse the boy, he took down a sword and drew it. The young Prince turned pale and trembled, and thought his uncle was going to murder him.” There were others who judged the “Butcher” quite capable of altering the succession on mediæval precedent, in which party spirit was unjust to this Prince, not so black or so bloodthirsty as he was painted in the hatreds of the time. To the satisfaction of most people, but not of the Duke, the future King’s mother was appointed Regent under control of a council; and her father-in-law allowed her to act as guardian of her children.

A lady, who any day might thus become the chief personage in the State, would not lack courtiers in a generation of politicians more concerned about interest than principle. Among her special friends came to be noted John Stuart, Earl of Bute, that unpopular bogy of the next reign. Their intimacy did not fail to pass for scandalous; but the Archangel Gabriel himself would hardly have escaped scandal had he moved in Court society of the period. Bute had been a favourite and boon companion of the Prince, and remained a close counsellor of the widow,[20] especially in the matter of bringing up her sons. Another matter influenced by him was the development of Kew Gardens, he himself taking a strong interest in botany and horticulture; but the Gardens may best be treated apart from the royal residences.

The best-founded reproach made against the Princess is that she brought up George III. and his brothers in strict seclusion, entirely under her influence and Bute’s. A careful mother’s excuse might well be the manners of the fashionable world. Bubb Doddington, admitted to walks and talks with her in Kew Gardens, reports her as anxious to keep the future King out of bad society, and not knowing where to find good companions for him among the dissipated nobility. Our age can sympathise with this desire more than did the factious scandalmongers of the period, who soon raised a cry that the Princes were being trained in principles of arbitrary power. To Doddington the Princess protested that she did not interfere with her son’s teachers. Between the contradictory statements of friends and foes, it is difficult to judge how far she was sincere in such professions; but it is clear that George loved her as sons of that[21] house have not always loved their parents. Later on, he was thought to have grown a little impatient under the yoke of this masterful mother.

Before long the staff of preceptors fell all by the ears, the high officials quarrelling with the sub-tutors, who were understood to be in more favour with the mother. The former complained of Stone as taking too much on himself; and as for Scott, Horace Walpole tells a wicked story of the Bishop turning him out of the Prince’s Chamber “by an imposition of hands that had at least as much of the flesh as of the spirit.” What brought these jars to light was the Bishop finding in the Prince of Wales’s hands a French book written to justify James II.’s measures, an offence which Stone tried to palliate by making out that this Jacobite treatise had been lent the Prince by his sister, to whom, one understands, it would do no such great harm. The end of it was that both Governor and Preceptor resigned their offices, replaced by Lord Waldegrave and the Bishop of Peterborough, who appear to have got on for a time more smoothly with the subordinate instructors, as with the family. The new Bishop, said their mother, gave great satisfaction, and the children[22] took to him. Lord Waldegrave, by his own account, became no favourite with his most important pupil, and had a poor opinion of him. His Memoirs scout the Princess’s professions that she did not interfere in the boys’ education. The preceptors had little influence, he says; “the mother and the nursery always prevailed.” The Prince he sets down as obstinate, sulky, too stingy and too self-righteous for his years. George, for his part, is afterwards found recalling this Governor as a “depraved, worthless man.”

What seems most certain as to George III.’s education is that he learned very little from books, not even to spell, but that he came to speak French and German, and that he allowed his mother and her friend, if not his tutors, to stamp the theory that a king of England should not only reign but govern, upon a nature that proved wax to receive and marble to retain such impressions. The mother spoke of George as a good, dutiful boy, rather serious in his disposition than otherwise, but a little wanting in spirit. Whether at her apron-string he grew up sly as well as shy and sleepy, is a question raised by the story of his youthful amour with a Quakeress named Hannah Lightfoot, which makes the plot[23] of one of Besant’s novels; but it is hard now to tell the truth of it. The idea one gets of this King’s youth suggests Blifil rather than Tom Jones. All the other sons turned out more like Tom Jones, while “insipid” was an epithet applied to young George, who would yet develop a strongly-flavoured character. His moral courage and pluck came to be well proved in several trying predicaments; and at the opening of the Seven Years’ War, he showed spirit by demanding to serve in the Army, to the King’s jealous displeasure.

We need not rake up all the scandals that echoed about the quiet household at Kew. The Whigs went on sounding an alarm that the Prince of Wales was brought up in Jacobite principles, a particular hullabaloo being raised by a charge that his tutor Stone had drunk the Pretender’s health twenty years back, in company with Murray, better known as Lord Mansfield. The chief reproach against Bute, as yet, seems to have been his easily supposed illicit relations with the Princess, of which there is no proof. It was after the accession, rather, that he came to be pilloried as having laid himself out to heighten the Prince’s notion of the prerogative. There can be no doubt that he had[24] a great part in moulding the future King’s mind, and that they were really fond of each other. It is said that they took an incognito tour together through England, and as far as Edinburgh and the Isle of Bute.

At eighteen, when the Prince was considered fit to have done with tutors, in the new household formed for him, Waldegrave being shunted as a persona ingrata, the Kew influence availed to have Bute made his official mentor as Groom of the Stole. The King offered him quarters at Kensington, with a royal allowance; but the lad declared that he would stick to his mother, which seems only a way of speaking, as by this time he had a home of his own at Saville House in Leicester Fields. He was at Kew, at all events, when, starting for London on horseback one morning, he met a messenger with the news of George II.’s sudden death, confirmed presently by the appearance of the Prime Minister’s carriage on its way westwards to the new fountain of power and pensions.

We know with what fair prospects George III. ascended the throne, “glorying in the name of Briton,” as Bute is said to have prompted him in addressing a people of whom the majority would[25] rather consider their king as born an Englishman. A true John Bull he proved to be in his sense of duty, in his narrow outlook, and in his pig-headed obstinacy. Too soon the sky clouded over this well-meaning Prince, who took pains to repair the deficiencies of his education, and had his character quickly developed in the light that pours upon a throne. The lessons of Kew had not been thrown away upon him. That unofficial tutor, hitherto kept behind the scenes, became his open counsellor, and presently Prime Minister, till overthrown by blasts of popular indignation excited against the unconstitutional politician, the slandered favourite, and the ambitious Scot, who made a magnet for drawing crowds of his hungry countrymen to the source of patronage. The young King shared the unpopularity of his adviser. He fell out with nobles and statesmen; from the mob his carriage had to be guarded by prize-fighters. And in the irony of fate, the cry of liberty swelled loudest round an unprincipled libertine, who, taking to patriotism as “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” quickly rose to be the idol of the mob, and made his fortune out of the cause in which he afterwards boasted that he never believed. “I never[26] was a Wilkesite,” said Wilkes; but poor George was at least honest in his notions of governing. It looks like a satire on the British Constitution that our most virtuous and well-meaning kings have usually been those who did us most mischief. At that time a puppet would have been more welcome than a patriot king, but not a puppet whose wires were pulled by Bute.

One thing cannot be denied by his worst enemies, that this king made an honest effort to rule himself, to lead a clean, simple and wholesome life, which did so much in the end to win back respect for royalty among the respectable classes. At the outset of his reign he seems ready to have married for love of the bewitching siren, Lady Sarah Lennox, who took care to be seen making hay on the lawn of Holland House, as the young king rode by on the road to Kew. But that mock-Arcadian romance was nipped in the bud by his managing mother, who made haste to look out a wife for him among the Protestant princesses of Germany. George “sighed as a lover, but obeyed as a son.” Lady Sarah, great-grand-daughter of Charles II. as she was, had to content herself with serving as bridesmaid to the new queen. She soon got over[27] her disappointed ambition, marrying twice and dying at a good old age as mother of the famous soldier-brothers Napier. It is a touching coincidence that her old age was afflicted by blindness, like her royal sweetheart’s, who in his last days appears to have recalled or imagined an earlier passion for Lady Elizabeth Spencer, afterwards Countess of Pembroke.

The royal bride chosen was Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a girl of seventeen, who for more than half a century gave a new tone to English society. After a little flutter of gaiety natural in her position, she entered upon a life of dignified propriety and domesticity with a husband who won her heart as well as her hand, and George, whatever wild oats he may or may not have sown, made a constant husband to his rather plain bride. This model couple agreed in the simple tastes at which worldly courtiers sneered. St. James’s Palace they kept as a stage for State functions; and they made little use of Windsor in the first years of the reign. For the “Queen’s House” was bought the Duke of Buckingham’s red-brick mansion on the site of what is now Buckingham Palace; and out of town the King lived a good deal at[28] Richmond Lodge, also given to the Queen, where perhaps his mother still liked to keep him near her. Every evening, it appears, King and Queen dutifully visited that domineering princess either at Kew, or at her London residence, Leicester House. Carlton House, afterwards given to the next Prince of Wales, was also hers; and at one or other of these she lived “in a privacy that exceeded economy.” That is Horace Walpole’s reproach, who speaks of her as avaricious, but does not give the Dowager credit for paying off her husband’s debts, nor for her liberal charities. Her worst fault seems to have been a masterful temper that expressed itself in the lesson imprinted on her son’s softness, “George, be a king!”

Richmond Lodge soon proving too small for the growing royal family, George III. proposed to build a new palace for himself in Richmond Gardens, near the river opposite Syon House. The design is still preserved, and the work was actually begun; but a hitch occurred in the obstinacy of the Richmond people, who refused to sell the King a piece of ground he wanted to round off his demesne. Then the Princess Dowager, when her other sons left the nest,[29] gave up Kew House to George and Charlotte, taking for herself the “Dutch House” across the way, till her death, not long afterwards; and when the lease ran out, it was bought for the Queen. The larger mansion had also been acquired, the royal family thus, from tenants, coming to be owners of both houses.

The smaller house—the present Kew Palace—was kept up by them with a separate establishment, at first used as the royal nursery, later on for the education of the older sons: and for a time it came to be known as the Prince of Wales’s House. Even then there was not accommodation for the dozen or so of youngsters who spent much of their childhood at Kew; and we hear of the King leasing or buying houses on Kew Green, where his flock of princes and princesses could be brought up in good air, the old Kew House serving always as the family rendezvous. In the grounds, towards the Richmond Park side, Charlotte built the picturesque “Queen’s Cottage,” where this industrious lady would ply her needle with her children about her, while the King read aloud, often from Shakespeare, for whom he professed a truly British admiration, though, as he told Miss[30] Burney, the great poet’s works contained “much sad stuff—only one must not say so!”

At the beginning of George III.’s reign, the present Kew Palace is found described as “Princess Amelia’s House,” so George II.’s old-maid daughter, whose proposed marriage with Frederick the Great fell through, as Carlyle has told at length, must have lived here for a time; but she soon moved to Gunnersbury, not far off. This wilful Princess Amelia, who had faults and merits of her own, held the office of Ranger of Richmond Great Park, that brought her into collision with the public. She tried to keep the gates shut against both gentle and simple, but found that she was living in a free country, when one Lewis, a Richmond brewer, took the lead in an action for right-of-way, which would have gone against her, had George II. not anticipated the result by throwing the Park open.

Having thus marked out all the royal residences in and about Kew, let us next fix our attention on Kew House during the period when it was the favourite residence of George III.




The chief memories of Kew are associated with its royal master who, by his doings here, earned the nickname of “Farmer George,” in his unpopular days also belittled as the “Buttonmaker,” a sneer at his turning-lathe, and the taste for other mechanical pursuits which he shared with Louis XVI. The “Squire of Kew” is a title that would have suited him better; and he might have lived more happily and usefully had his station been no higher than that which he here affected. When he could get away from State functions and cares, not indeed neglected by him, he liked to live at Kew as a simple country gentleman, keeping a pack of hounds, superintending a model farm, improving his grounds, looking after his children, walking out with his wife,[32] and not wasting his money. As the homely and frugal ways of this royal couple gave offence not only to dissipated courtiers, who felt themselves rebuked, but to the mob, always apt to be a snob, “meanly admiring mean things,” the caricaturists and lampooners of the reign found abundant encouragement to make coarse fun of George’s and Charlotte’s domestic virtues as well as of their public offences. But one guesses that Gillray and Peter Pindar were not applauded by the King’s neighbours at Kew.

For some ten years, as we have seen, Richmond Lodge made his favourite country-seat; and for about the same period he was most at home in Kew House. Then, after taking up their residence at Windsor, the royal family went on making longer or shorter visits to Kew, kept as a villeggiatura where they could be under less ceremony and restraint than in their statelier palaces. Their winter abode was usually Buckingham House. Not till George had been nearly twenty years on the throne did he care for living at Windsor. The castle itself had fallen so much out of repair, that a new “Queen’s Lodge” was built[33] where now are the royal stables; then this took the place of Kew as chief summer residence. When the Richmond people found they were like to lose such distinguished and profitable neighbours, they sorely repented their refusal to sell the bit of land coveted by the King, which was now pressed upon him, but too late to change his intention. That Naboth’s vineyard was eventually taken into the royal grounds; then by an Act of Parliament closing “Love Lane,” a public way between them, George was able to unite the grounds of Richmond and Kew, which long, however, remained distinct enclosures.

So George and Charlotte settled down, had a large family, and lived happily in private life, till fresh troubles came upon them. We should all know Thackeray’s sly account of that life:—

King George’s household was a model of an English gentleman’s household. It was early; it was kindly; it was charitable; it was frugal; it was orderly; it must have been stupid to a degree which I shudder now to contemplate. No wonder all the princes ran away from the lap of that dreary domestic virtue. It always rose, rode, dined at stated intervals. Day after day was the same. At the same hour at night the King kissed his daughters’ jolly cheeks; the princesses kissed their[34] mother’s hand; and Madame Thielke brought the royal nightcap. At the same hour the equerries and women-in-waiting had their little dinner and cackled over their tea. The King had his backgammon or his evening concert; the equerries yawned themselves to death in the anteroom; or the King and his family walked on Windsor slopes, the King holding his darling little Princess Amelia by the hand; and the people crowded round quite good-naturedly; and the Eton boys thrust their chubby cheeks under the crowd’s elbows; and the concert over, the King never failed to take his enormous cocked-hat off, and salute his band, and say, “Thank you, gentlemen!”


In the Memoirs of Mrs. Papendiek, whose husband and father were Court pages, and who was brought up at Kew, it is mentioned that during the “No Popery” riots the children were sent away to Kew, while the King stayed at his post in London, showing courage and spirit, but would ride down between four and seven in the morning for a peep at his darlings, brought up to their parents’ early hours. Other reminiscences give glimpses of the royal domesticity and rusticity, not so dull to all tastes as to those of a man about town like Thackeray. One lad, John Rogers, who lived into Victoria’s reign, remembered seeing the young King, shut out of Richmond Lodge after[35] a morning walk, tapping at the window in vain, till at last he contrived to open one and push himself in head foremost. In the country, George and Charlotte were up at six, and breakfasted with their children about them. They often dined with the children, too; later on the King took to early dinners that scandalised his guests by the simplicity of mutton and turnips. His usual drink was a sort of lemonade known in the household as King’s cup. In an age of intemperance and riots, he preferred sobriety, the morning dew, and the open air, with plenty of exercise to keep down his fat. The lucky children had all Kew Gardens to play in; and once a week the whole family made a regular promenade through the Richmond grounds. When he went further afield, George loved Paul-prying into the cottages of his poorer neighbours, showing an interest in their petty affairs, and pouring out upon them more questions than could be answered, such as that famous one, how the apple got into the dumpling?

Though the London mob, at different times, were insolent to both sovereigns, they never lost popularity at Kew. When they next visited it[36] after the King’s escape from assassination by a mad woman, the road over Kew Green was found crowded by all the inhabitants, “lame, old, sick, blind, and infants,” with a band of musicians “who began God Save the King! the moment they came on the Green, and finished it with loud huzzas”—a neighbourly demonstration that moved the Queen to tearfully declaring, “I shall always love little Kew for this.”

George succeeded to his mother’s interest in Kew Gardens, now enlarged and improved as will be told in another chapter. He also carried on a large home-farm that extended into the parish of Mortlake, while the Old Deer Park was turned into pasture for a flock of merino sheep which he imported into England. The young princes were brought up to the same tastes. Before getting into their teens, the two eldest had a plot of ground given them, where, à la Sandford and Merton, they planted a crop of corn, weeded, reaped, thrashed and ground it with their own hands, and saw it made into bread, of which the whole family duly partook. Up till our own time was standing in Kew Gardens a miniature structure said to have[37] been built by the princes as part of their apprenticeship to life. In the present Kew Palace are preserved specimens of their early writing, George’s copy being Conscious Innocence, while Frederick traces very creditably the sentiment, Aim at Improvement.

It was not through parental indulgence if these boys grew to despise such innocent pursuits. Queen Charlotte taught them herself in their A B C stage: and when they were given over to tutors, the order was that they should be treated like ordinary scholars, flogged if they deserved it, and so forth. The rod seems not to have been spared on him who was to become the Lord’s anointed; and his education in the classics prospered better than his father’s. The notorious Dr. Dodd, who came to be hanged for forgery, was at one time proposed as the Prince of Wales’s tutor. He was brought up with his next brother Frederick, who, till created Duke of York, bore in boyhood the foreign title of Bishop of Osnaburgh, and had been made a Knight of the Bath in the nursery. The little Bishop did not take kindly to books; but in later life George IV. could pose as a scholar before the[38] courtly wits about him; even in his teens he corrected his Governor, Lord Bruce, on a false quantity, so mortifying the noble pedagogue that he gave in his resignation. There is another story, perhaps recorded by Signor Ben Trovato, that in the Prince’s later life an uncourtly Provost of Eton mentioned Homer to him as “an author with whom your Royal Highness is probably not much acquainted,” to which H.R.H. suavely replied that he had forgotten a good deal of his Homer, but remembered one line, and went on to quote Il. i. 225, which, for readers in the same case as to Homer, may be rendered by Dryden’s version, “Dastard and drunken, mean and insolent”—epithets that too well fitted the rebuked pedant in question.

The Eton boys of that day, for whom the summum supplicium, according to Henry Angelo’s Memoirs, was not over six cuts of a birch, would appear to have been handled in less Spartan fashion than were the King’s sons in their private schoolroom. The Princess Sophia told Miss Amelia Murray that she had seen her eldest brothers, at thirteen and fourteen, held by the arms to be flogged with a long whip. But once[39] the naughty boys are said to have turned against one of their severe masters, using upon him the rod he proposed for them. This story may have suggested a scene in Thackeray’s Virginians, as it might have been prompted by one in Roderick Random, or a variant in The Fool of Quality, a very long and edifying romance of the Sandford and Merton school, which had a vogue at this period. The Queen held no high opinion of novel-reading; and if her sons studied the works of Smollett, it would perhaps be on the sly, as must have been a good many doings in that family.

We know how these carefully educated princes had more of Merton than of Sandford in their disposition; then they soon found flatterers and courtiers to set them against their strict training, and to curry favour with a future sovereign. Childish mischief may excuse the freak of the boy Prince of Wales saluting his father with the hated cry of “Wilkes and Liberty!” But it was a serious matter when the second son was precociously found playing the Don Juan with a cottage beauty. That scapegrace Bishop is accused of leading his elder brother into wrong-doings for which he perhaps needed no[40] prompter. Their uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, was another bad counsellor, who delighted in debauching his nephews out of ill will to the moral King. A worse companion, later on, would be the notorious Duke de Chartres, afterwards Égalité Orleans, who brought to London French-polished vices to exchange for English jockeyism.

The Prince of Wales, like his father, was fond of music, and, if flattery may be trusted, made no despicable performer. Mrs. Papendiek, having the same tastes, can give us some glimpse of his hobbledehoy recreations.

What with the goings on of the Prince of Wales at the Lodge, the fun with Fischer, the celebrated oboe player, and the various amusements in which I was engaged, the season was one of gaiety, mirth, and enjoyment. The well-known bet of five guineas between Bach and Fischer was made in the presence of his Royal Highness and of us all. The bet was that Fischer could not play his own minuet. He was a very nervous man, and after allowing him to get through a few bars, Bach stood before him with a lemon in his hand, which he squeezed so that the juice dropped slowly. Then he bit another so that the juice ran out of his mouth freely. Fischer tried once or twice to get rid of the water that must, on such a sight, fill the mouth; but not being able to conquer the sensation, he was obliged to own himself beaten.… Another joke was played off upon poor Fischer this merrymaking season,[41] to this effect: After the concert, which Fischer attended twice a week at Richmond or at Kew, wherever the King and Queen were, he used eagerly to seize upon the supper before he went to London. Upon one occasion, the Prince came in and said, “I have ordered something that I know you like,” a dish was brought in, and when the cover was lifted, out jumped a rabbit. Germans have a particular dislike to that animal in every shape and form; therefore it is easy to conjecture poor Fischer’s state of mind. This joke cost him only the loss of his supper, but many nights succeeded before he could be prevailed on to again enter the eating-room.

Making a butt of a dependent seems no princely pastime; but this lady has worse to tell us of the “First Gentleman in Europe’s” amusements at the age of sixteen. “Much do I lament to add that some of those about the young princes swerved from principle, and introduced improper company when their Majesties supposed them to be at rest, and after the divines had closed their day with prayer.”

The first open scandal about the Prince was his intrigue with the unfortunate “Perdita” Robinson, who turned many a head beside his by her acting in The Winter’s Tale. We know very little about that episode except what the lady thinks fit to tell us in her Memoirs. The boy lover, not yet eighteen, was so closely kept[42] at Kew that for some time he had to content himself with ardent letters. At length an interview was arranged under circumstances which suggest that the tutorial turnkeys must have been in the way of nodding over their port. Lord Malden, who played Leporello in this amour, brought Perdita to an inn on the island between Kew and Brentford, to await the signal that should invite them to cross.

The handkerchief was waved on the opposite shore; but the signal was, by the dusk of the evening, rendered almost imperceptible. Lord Malden took my hand, I stepped into the boat, and in a few minutes we landed before the iron gates of old Kew Palace. The interview was but of a moment. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of York (then Bishop of Osnaburg) were walking down the avenue. A few words, and those scarcely articulate, were uttered by the Prince, when a noise of people approaching from the palace startled us. The moon was now rising; and the idea of being overheard, or of his Royal Highness being seen out at so unusual an hour, terrified the whole group. After a few more words of a most affectionate nature uttered by the Prince, we parted, and Lord Malden and myself returned to the island. The Prince never quitted the avenue, nor the presence of the Duke of York, during the whole of this short meeting. Alas! my friend, if my mind was before influenced by esteem, it was now awakened to the most enthusiastic admiration. The rank of the Prince no longer chilled into awe that being who now considered him as the lover and the friend. The graces of his person, the irresistible sweetness of his smile, the tenderness of his melodious yet manly voice, will be remembered by me till every vision of this changing scene shall be forgotten.



Repeated assignations, she says, followed “at this romantic spot,” where now the party took courage to continue their walks till past midnight. Prince Frederick and Lord Malden, we are to know, were always there to play gooseberry. The lady wore a dark-coloured dress, and the gentlemen were disguised in greatcoats, except that harum-scarum Bishop, who would make his companions uneasy by showing himself in an unclerical buff coat, “the most conspicuous colour he could have selected for an adventure of this nature.” The tutors having got into their nightcaps by midnight, one supposes, these moonlight ramblers even ventured on a little music as the food of love, Frederick being the minstrel whose tones, “breaking on the silence of the night, have often appeared to my entranced senses like more than mortal melody.” It is clear that Perdita does not tell the whole story. Mrs. Papendiek, well up in the gossip of the backstairs, roundly asserts that two officials who[44] had been about these princes from childhood, “privately overlooked the domestic vices and irregularities of their young charge,” and that they smuggled Mrs. Robinson through a back gate to the Prince of Wales’s apartments.

The beautiful actress, who was a poetess, too, à ses heures, might well be dazzled by those shining personalities. The Prince vowed unalterable love till death; and the most convincing of his billets-doux was a bond promising to pay Perdita £20,000 at his majority. Perhaps he was sincere for the moment; but we know what such callow vows come to. When, at eighteen, he became to some extent his own master, this unhappily married woman was taken into keeping, and for a time cut a notorious dash before the footlights of society. After Florizel grew tired of her, Perdita’s gushing sentimentality did not overlook businesslike considerations. She let the King buy up the Prince’s letters for £5000; and his bond was commuted for a pension of £400. But, these profits swallowed up by debts and extravagant habits, the poor creature fell into bad health and hasty authorship. Paralysed and harassed, she died in 1800, buried by her own[45] desire, “for a particular reason,” in Old Windsor Churchyard, where her tomb may be seen fenced in with spiked railings to defend it from the body-snatchers that infested those river-side graveyards; and on it may be read an oft-quoted epitaph idealising the painful facts of her career.

At Richmond lived Mrs. Fitzherbert, the Prince of Wales’s more lasting flame, to whom he appears to have been honestly, if illegally, married. When this Prince was launched upon the wicked world, and the Bishop in partibus had been sent off to finish his education abroad, the royal pair still had their quiver full of youngsters, who for twenty years came so fast as to be cue for Horace Walpole’s jesting prophecy that “London will be like the senate of old Rome, an assembly of princes.” Besides others who died young, there were the princes afterwards known as Dukes of Clarence, Kent, Cumberland, Sussex, and Cambridge, and the Princesses Charlotte, Augusta, Mary, Elizabeth, Sophia, and little Amelia, the darling of her father. Where all these children were stowed away, one cannot always make out clearly: we hear of the Princes William and Edward living[46] with their tutors in what is now Cambridge Cottage, and two of the younger boys in a house at the top of the Green. Lady Charlotte Finch, governess to the princesses, had a separate house near the river; then another is spoken of as the “Princess Elizabeth’s house.” Kew House itself was a scrimply inconvenient mansion, for which the royal household made a tight fit even in its state of reduced ceremony. Pictures of it when it was the Princess Dowager’s villa, show a square, plain front with two one-storied wings, from which in all thirty-two windows look straight out upon the lawn. At that time it bore the alias of “The White House.” Miss Burney describes it as a labyrinth of stairs and passages, where at first she continually lost herself among the “small, dark, and old-fashioned” rooms.

It is in 1786 that a search-light comes to be turned upon this semi-private life by the diary of a then most popular novelist. At the end of the year before, Fanny Burney had been staying with her venerable friend, Mrs. Delaney, at Windsor, when one afternoon into the drawing-room walked, unannounced, a burly man in black with a star on his breast. Even the[47] short-sighted visitor hardly needed to be told who he was. As every one in the room drew back out of the way, she was for slipping off; but the King asked in a loud whisper, “Is that Miss Burney?” and after good-naturedly giving her time to recover from her modest confusion, entered upon a conversation of questions, punctuated with what, whats, in which he showed himself very inquisitive as to how she had come to write and print Evelina. The Queen soon followed, to whom George introduced her by repeating their conversation; and Miss Burney went to bed enraptured with her new acquaintances. Further interviews followed, which only increased her admiration, though the satirist rather than the courtier peeps out in her account of directions given her for behaviour in the presence of royalty.

Her demeanour certainly gave satisfaction in the royal circle, for a few months afterwards she was offered the post of one of the Queen’s dressers, which she accepted after some modest misgiving. We remember Macaulay’s indignation, “That with talents which had instructed and delighted the highest living minds, she should now be employed only in mixing snuff and in[48] sticking pins; that she should be summoned by a waiting-woman’s bell to a waiting-woman’s duties; that she should pass her whole life under the restraints of a paltry etiquette, should sometimes fast till she was ready to swoon for hunger, should sometimes stand till her knees gave way with fatigue, that she should not dare to speak or move without considering how her mistress might like her words and gestures.”

This engagement was certainly a mistake on both sides: Miss Burney might have found more congenial employment; and the Queen could have had a better dresser. But Macaulay, after his manner, has rather over-emphasised the evils of her lot in the royal service. She certainly took it as a rise in the world, and to her father it seemed dazzling good fortune. The remuneration offered her, with the chance of further favour, might well have satisfied even successful novelists of that day, few among whom would not have jumped at such admission to the skirts of Court life. Her year’s salary, £200, was almost as much as she got from her second novel, and far more than the proceeds of her first one; then Macaulay slurs over the Queen’s generosity in presents. To look at the matter in no mere terms[49] of pay, literature probably lost little by her laying down the pen for a time; her best work had been done in Evelina; Cecilia was a falling off; and Camilla, written after her experience of service, did not deserve the pecuniary success won for it, in part, by royal patronage. In her diary, Miss Burney herself makes little serious complaint but of the ill-tempered tyranny of her senior colleague, Mrs. Schwellenberg. Court life soon ceased to be a little heaven below for her; but she had distractions in royal journeys to Oxford, Cheltenham, Weymouth, seats at the trial of Warren Hastings, glimpses of great folks, and even spells of moral flirtation with at least one gentleman of the household, not to speak of rather troublesome attentions from another who was a married man. She cannot say too much of the kindness of the King and the princesses; and if her “sweet Queen” proved sometimes an inconsiderate mistress, it was from want of thought rather than a hard heart. The confinement upon which Macaulay lays such stress was no stricter than that of most domestic ladies, who had not Windsor Park and Kew Gardens to walk in. Had she been more robust, the novelist might have lived on to become a second Mrs.[50] Delaney in the royal esteem. But her health broke down, and after five years’ genteel servitude she retired on a pension of a hundred pounds.

During these years the Court had its summer head-quarters at Windsor. Every second week, the “Royals” spent from Tuesday to Friday at Kew, using this as a half-way house for St. James’s, where on Thursdays the Queen held her fortnightly drawing-rooms. This was Miss Burney’s hardest job. She had to be up at six on drawing-room days, with hardly time for breakfast, to help in dressing the Queen, who put on most of her finery at Kew, the “tippet and long ruffles” being carried in paper to save them from dust; then the final touches were added at St. James’s, where, after the function, the idol had to be undecked—in all, three laborious attendances and two journeys, from which the tired keeper of the robes got back to dinner not till nearly seven o’clock, as then seemed a very late hour.

In winter, when the Court moved to London, there would be no going to Kew, which indeed was not fitted up as a cold weather residence. When it came to be occupied for months during the King’s illness, strips of carpet and sandbags[51] had to be provided to make the princesses tolerably comfortable. All the luxury of this house was outside, in its spacious gardens. But the want of state was made up for by the more home-like life of Kew, though that had also its disadvantages; the ladies and gentlemen were not free to see their friends where the King and his younger children might at any time come wandering along the passages and poking into the small rooms. There was not even a chapel in the house; and when the Royal Family happened to spend a Sunday here by some chance, they heard prayers in a private room, through the door of another, where the chief attendants took their place, the servants being edified in an outer apartment, which reminds us of the complaint of one of Queen Anne’s chaplains that he had “to whistle the Gospel through the keyhole.” It was later that George III. fitted Kew Church with a gallery to serve as royal pew.

Towards the end of 1788, this routine was painfully broken upon by the King’s illness, which began during one of his temporary stays at Kew, prolonged then for more than a week, to the great discomposure of the household, ill-provided with clothes, or with books in Miss[52] Burney’s case. The cause of the attack was said to be His Majesty’s sitting in wet stockings; but for some time back signs of strangeness had been noted in him, who had enough to disorder his mind in the conduct of his eldest sons, and in his brooding over the loss of the American Colonies. Miss Burney’s diary gives a vivid picture of those wretched days at Kew, when no one felt sure what to say, and some, like herself, hardly knew what to think of the rumours that filled the house. The King was noisy and voluble beyond his wont, talking himself hoarse in his assurances that there was not much the matter with him, mingled with complaints that he could not sleep. More than once Miss Burney found the Queen in tears. Charlotte had good reason for anxiety: she must have been aware of the character of a similar attack near the beginning of the reign, which had passed off so quickly that it could be hushed up.

By October 25, George seemed so much better that he moved to Windsor, where his restlessness and weakness grew worse again. He obstinately insisted on going out to hunt as usual in the November weather, yet he had to confess that all at once he had become an[53] old man. A few days later there was a terrible commotion in the family. It leaked out that at dinner the King had broken into positive delirium, seizing his eldest son by the collar and pushing him against the wall. The Prince is said to have burst into tears, while the Queen had a fit of hysterics. Her husband could with difficulty be persuaded to spend the night in a separate room, from which all night long she heard his ravings, now no secret to any one in the house.

The King’s death being looked on as imminent, the Prince of Wales at once took command of the misery and confusion at Windsor. His heartless conduct during his father’s illness is matter of history, as also the bitter struggle between his faction and Pitt’s Ministry on the Regency question, the former maintaining the very unwhiggish doctrine that royal authority should pass, in the circumstances, into the Heir Apparent’s hands, while the Tories would make him Regent only with the sanction of Parliament, and under restrictions. The rabble was now on the King’s side; and all respectable persons, not being partisans or place-hunters, were disgusted by the profligate[54] Prince’s conduct. The doctors attending the King had been threatened with popular violence if his illness proved fatal. Their case was a hard one, as not only would the royal patient not always take their remedies nor even see them, but they were treating a complaint then ill understood even by physicians who professed special experience in it. It is said that poor George was put in a strait-waistcoat, chained to the wall, and actually struck by one of his keepers, which would be quite after the practice of that day. But the stories of his harsh treatment are somewhat dubious, for the notion that he was being ill-used often figured among his delusions.

At the end of November the doctors determined on removing him to Kew, where he could get exercise in the privacy of the Gardens. The King angrily refused to leave Windsor, and had to be coaxed away by a promise that he should see his wife and children, gone on before him. “Princes, equerries, physicians, pages—all conferring, whispering, plotting and caballing, how to induce the King to set off!” noted Miss Burney, who accompanied her mistress on their hasty flitting to Kew House, where the Prince[55] of Wales had written in chalk over each room the name of its occupant. Everybody had to put up with the discomfort of being crowded together in that ill-furnished mansion. The only good rooms were given up to the King, those above being left empty that he might not be disturbed. Part of the household overflowed into the Prince of Wales’s house opposite; the younger children being lodged in their usual quarters on Kew Green. Pent up closely with “the Schwellenberg,” Miss Burney had her full share of troubles; but her womanly devotion rose to the occasion, and she declares that “not even the £20,000 prize in the lottery could, at this time, draw me from this melancholy scene.” She had the satisfaction of being employed, every morning, to carry the physicians’ report to the Queen, who, by her enemies, was accused of doctoring those bulletins to give the most favourable view of symptoms on which, for once, doctors differed.

The Prince of Wales and his partisans listened rather to those big-wigs of the profession that were most gravely shaken over a case they did not understand. They perhaps agreed best in looking askance on an outsider called in[56] upon the removal to Kew. This was the Rev. Mr. Willis, who at Lincoln, and in a private asylum of his own, had shown the benefit of a more rational treatment of the insane. Though he had a medical degree, he was belittled as a quack by many members of a guild apt to suspect innovators; but his success had been so notable that he was now employed, with his sons, trained in his methods, to be constantly about the King. From the first he took a hopeful view of the case; and when, with occasional interference, he was allowed to have his way, it soon appeared that he was the right man in the right place. His secret seems to have been a mixture of kindness and firmness; but perhaps he was not above using nostrums of his own. Mrs. Papendiek, whose husband was in attendance, says that one of the remedies used was musk, the smell of which the King could not bear, but the doctor insisted on it as efficacious. He took the responsibility of giving the King a razor to shave himself, for which he was afterwards denounced almost as compassing Lèse-majesté; but on all such questions he stipulated for leave to go by his own experience and judgment.


Had this been in the era of newspaper kodaking, we should no doubt have fuller details of the King’s madness, as to which more or less doubtful stories leak out in the memoirs and letters of the day. He is described as wanting to climb the Pagoda, and on being thwarted, throwing himself sulkily on the ground, from which it took four or five men three-quarters of an hour to raise him. Another day he tried to throw himself out of a window. The worst symptom was his incessant garrulity: he would go on talking for hours about everything or nothing. One of the doctors once found him translating the Court Calendar into doggerel Latin. The most pathetic story is that of his being overheard earnestly praying for his recovery. At times he showed touches of humour and shrewdness. He managed, though it had been forbidden, to get hold of a copy of King Lear, Dr. Willis not being strong in literature; and when his elder daughters were first allowed to visit him, he told them “I am like poor Lear; but thank God! I have no Regan, no Goneril, but three Cordelias.” Once he reproached Willis with having given up his sacred calling for profit;[58] and when the reverend doctor excused himself on the precedent of Christ healing demoniacs, “Yes,” said the King, “but He did not get seven hundred a year for it!”

The Willises, by the way, afterwards complained of their remuneration, whatever it was; but their treatment of George III. made an excellent advertisement for the family, one of whom was sent for to Lisbon in the case of a mad Queen of Portugal. They seem to have given some offence in the household by the position they had to assume. Great was flunkey indignation when four of Dr. Willis’s keepers were raised to brevet-rank as pages, that after his recovery they might remain beside the King in case of a relapse. About that time several of the regular pages seem to have been dismissed or disgraced, it is said for carrying tales to the Prince of Wales. These “pages,” of course, had now grown into adult servants above mere menial rank, such beardless boys as figure in history and romance being distinguished as “pages of honour.”


Poor Miss Burney was so worn out that one of the doctors, noticing her wan looks, insisted on her taking daily exercise, such as[59] was the prescription for the King. As the orders were to keep every one out of his way, she made a point of inquiring whether he would be in the Kew or the Richmond grounds; but once there was a misunderstanding that led to the most violent agitation of her life. While tramping her constitutional round of Kew Gardens, through the trees she saw three or four figures, whom at first her short-sighted eyes took for workmen, till she was too late aware of His Majesty’s person among them.

Alarmed past all possible expression, I waited not to know more, but turning back, ran off with all my might. But what was my terror to hear myself pursued!—to hear the voice of the King himself loudly and hoarsely calling after me, “Miss Burney! Miss Burney!”

I protest I was ready to die. I knew not in what state he might be at the time; I only knew the orders to keep out of his way were universal; that the Queen would highly disapprove any unauthorised meeting, and that the very action of my running away might deeply, in his present irritable state, offend him. Nevertheless, on I ran, too terrified to stop, and in search of some short passage, for the garden is full of little labyrinths, by which I might escape.

The steps still pursued me, and still the poor hoarse and altered voice rang in my ears—more and more footsteps resounded frightfully behind me—the attendants all running, to catch their eager master, and the voices[60] of the two Doctor Willises loudly exhorting him not to heat himself so unmercifully.

Heavens, how I ran! I do not think I should have felt the hot lava from Vesuvius—at least not the hot cinders—had I so run during its eruption. My feet were not sensible that they even touched the ground.

Soon after, I heard other voices, shriller, though less nervous, call out “Stop! stop! stop!”

I could by no means consent; I knew not what was purposed, but I recollected fully my agreement with Dr. John that very morning, that I should decamp if surprised, and not be named.

My own fears and repugnance, also, after a flight and disobedience like this, were doubled in the thought of not escaping. I knew not to what I might be exposed, should the malady be then high, and take the turn of resentment. Still, therefore, on I flew; and such was my speed, so almost incredible to relate or recollect, that I fairly believe no one of the whole party could have overtaken me, if these words from one of the attendants had not reached me, “Doctor Willis begs you to stop!”

“I cannot! I cannot!” I answered, still flying on, when he called out, “You must, ma’am; it hurts the King to run.”

Then, indeed, I stopped—in a state of fear really amounting to agony. I turned round, I saw the two doctors had got the King between them, and three attendants of Dr. Willis’s were hovering about. They all slackened their pace, as they saw me stand still; but such was the excess of my alarm, that I was wholly insensible to the effects of a race which, at any other time, would have required an hour’s recruit.

As they approached, some little presence of mind[61] happily came to my command; it occurred to me that, to appease the wrath of my flight, I must now show some confidence; I therefore faced them as undauntedly as I was able, only charging the nearest of the attendants to stand by my side.

When they were within a few yards of me the King called out, “Why did you run away?”

Shocked at a question impossible to answer, yet a little assured by the mild tone of his voice, I instantly forced myself forward to meet him, though the internal sensation which satisfied me this was a step the most proper to appease his suspicions and displeasure, was so violently combated by the tremor of my nerves, that I fairly think I may reckon it the greatest effort of personal courage I have ever made.

The effort answered: I looked up, and met all his wonted benignity of countenance, though something still of wildness in his eyes. Think, however, of my surprise, to feel him put both his hands round my two shoulders and then kiss my cheek!

I wonder I did not really sink, so exquisite was my affright when I saw him spread out his arms! Involuntarily, I concluded he meant to crush me; but the Willises, who have never seen him till this fatal illness, not knowing how very extraordinary an action this was from him, simply smiled and looked pleased, supposing, perhaps, it was his customary salutation.

She was soon relieved to find the King talking reasonably enough, though with a certain flightiness, not very different from his ordinary manner. He insisted on prolonging the interview, after the Willises in vain tried to cut[62] it short. He talked of Mrs. Schwellenberg, seeming quite well aware of what Miss Burney had to bear from her “Cerbera”; of the lady’s own father, author of the History of Music; of his favourite composer, Handel, snatches from whose oratorios he tried to hum over with painful effect. As they walked on together, he asked endless questions about his friends, expressed his intention of appointing new officials, complained angrily of his pages. At last he was persuaded to part from this reluctant confidante, promising to be her friend as long as he lived; then she went off to the Queen with a report which ensured forgiveness for that innocent adventure.

The favourable symptoms continued, little to the satisfaction of the Prince and his friends, who are credited with passing brutal jests on the King’s condition. Just as power seemed to be within their grasp, the Regency Bill was shelved, after an audience given by the King to the Lord Chancellor, Thurlow, though that shifty Polonius is said to have remarked that His Majesty had been “wound up” to talk to him. Miss Burney, who now confined her walks to the roadside, had the happiness of[63] thence seeing the royal pair walking arm-in-arm in Richmond Gardens. Next day, the King came to tea with his family in the drawing-room; then, a few days later, meeting Miss Burney in the Queen’s dressing-room, he said that he had waited on purpose to tell her—“I am quite well now—I was nearly so when I saw you before—but I could overtake you better now.” After four months of royal misery and public excitement, the evergreen sneerer, Horace Walpole, could note—“The King has returned, not to what the courtiers call his sense, but to his non-sense.”

The news called forth an outburst of public joy, that hit the Prince’s party hard. A thanksgiving prayer was read in every church; and later on the King, to the dread of his advisers, would not be satisfied without the excitement of attending a solemn service at St. Paul’s, where he and the princesses were moved to tears, while his graceless sons attracted attention by their irreverent chattering. There is some slight palliation for the Prince of Wales’s conduct throughout this trying time, in the fact that the King had showed a dislike to him, and even a want of fairness to his shortcomings;[64] but the Duke of York, always the father’s favourite son, has no excuse for backing up his undutiful brother. Soon after the recovery was announced, London had hailed it with a general illumination, from rushlights in the humblest cottage window to blazing devices on the clubs. It was witnessed by the Queen and all her daughters except the youngest, while, in their absence till the, for them, most unwonted hour of 1 A.M., Kew House too was lighted up and adorned with a transparency displaying The King—Providence—Health—Britannia; and on either side of the gates, in gold letters on a purple ground, shone these most loyal lines:—

Our prayers are heard, and Providence restores
A patriot King to bless Britannia’s shores.
Nor yet to Britain is this bliss confined,
All Europe hails the friend of human kind!
If such the general joy, what words can show
The change to transport from the depth of woe,
In those permitted to embrace again
The best of fathers, husbands, and of men?

Inside the house also the Muse was not silent. His darling Princess Amelia came to kneel before him, presenting her father with verses in the Queen’s name, from the pen of her novelist-attendant.



Amid a rapturous Nation’s praise
That sees thee to their prayers restored,
Turn gently from the general blaze,—
Thy Charlotte woos her bosom’s lord.
Turn and behold where, bright and clear,
Depictured with transparent art,
The emblems of her thoughts appear,
The tribute of a grateful heart.
O! small the tribute, were it weigh’d
With all she feels—or half she knows!
But noble minds are best repaid
From the pure spring whence bounty flows.
P.S.—The little bearer begs a kiss
From dear papa, for bringing this.

In the middle of March, after their unusually long stay at Kew, the royal family moved to Windsor, the King riding on horseback, to be received by the townsfolk with an ovation of welcome. In June, to complete the cure, he went to Weymouth for sea-bathing, everywhere on the journey hailed with acclamations and demonstrations that might well have turned a weak head. At Weymouth, the exuberant loyalty of the people was embarrassing. All the shops and bathing-machines placarded God Save the King, a device repeated on the bonnets and waists of the bathing-women, as indeed on dresses all over England. “All the children,”[66] reports Miss Burney, “wear it in their caps—all the labourers in their hats, and all the sailors in their voices; for they never approach the house without shouting it aloud—nor see the King, or his shadow, without beginning to huzza, and going on to three cheers.… Nor is this all. Think but of the surprise of His Majesty when, the first time of his bathing, he had no sooner popped his royal head under water than a band of music concealed in a neighbouring machine struck up ‘God save great George our King!’” It was now that occurred the ludicrous incident of the wooden-legged Mayor presenting an address, and not being able to kneel, to the scandal of the officials. And here, the “Royals” having gone on a day’s visit to Sherborne Castle, for the first time in three years Miss Burney had a holiday, which she spent with a friend in a “romantic and lovely excursion” to the ruins of Sandsfoot Castle near the neck of Portland Island, a peep into which she might have found more romantic, had some couple of miles not been a Georgian lady’s limit on foot.

After a tour through the loyal West country, the Court returned to its routine of London and[67] Windsor life, with halts at Kew in the summer. But henceforth Miss Burney’s diary has little to say about Kew; and after another year we lose that peep-hole into royal domesticity. The life of a glorified waiting-maid began to tell upon her health and spirits: “Lost to all private comfort, dead to all domestic endearment, I was worn with want of rest and fatigued with laborious watchfulness and attendance.” Her chief comfort had been a sort of intermittent philandering with the Queen’s Vice-Chamberlain, Colonel Digby—the “Mr. Fairly” of her journals—a favourite with the King, too, to whom he could “say anything in his genteel roundabout way.” This gentleman the lady clearly admired none the less when he became a widower, though to us she presents him rather too much in the character of a priggish novel hero, full of edifying reflections and opinions. But the sentimental friend turned out not impeccable, for he married Another, the “Miss Fuzilier,” about whom his fellow-servant had often rallied him; and she cannot conceal that this choice seemed unworthy of him. Her health was so evidently breaking down that her literary friends cried out on the sacrifice; even the newspapers[68] gossiped about her condition; and the meddlesome Mr. Boswell declared that he would set the whole Club upon Dr. Burney, if she were not allowed to resign.

This she was most loth to do. She tried taking “the bark,” but that did little good. The Rev. Dr. Willis volunteered a prescription which she found “too violent” in its effect, while grateful to him for his interest in her. “Why,” said he, “to tell the truth, I don’t quite know how I could have got on at Kew, in the King’s illness, if it had not been for seeing you in a morning. I assure you they worried me so, all round, one way or other, that I was almost ready to go off. But you used to keep me up prodigiously. Though, I give you my word, I was afraid sometimes to see you, with your good-humoured face, for all it helped me to keep up, because I did not know what to say to you, when things went bad, on account of vexing you.”

Every one noticed her miserable plight, yet the Queen showed herself too blind to the fact of a life being wasted in her service. Even the ill-tempered Mrs. Schwellenberg was kind in her way, who seems to have found this subordinate a pleasingly submissive victim, and occasionally[69] spoke well of her behind her back: “The Bernan bin reely agribble!” This “Cerbera,” whatever her faults, had the virtue of devotion to her lifelong mistress, and could not understand living by choice out of sunshine of Court favour. She tempted Miss Burney with the dazzling prospect of her own post in reversion. But the novelist was sick of her gilded cage. With trembling knees, after long hesitation, as if it were a crime, in the form of a petition she offered her resignation, not over-graciously received. The Queen proposed a six weeks’ holiday, a change of air. When this was declined, the Schwellenberg raged against Miss Burney and her father as almost guilty of treason. “I am sure she would have gladly confined us both in the Bastille, had England such a misery, as a fit place to bring us to ourselves from a daring so outrageous to imperial wishes.”

She held on some months longer to let the Queen find a successor, secured in the person of a Hanoverian pastor’s daughter, Mdlle. Jacobi, who, for sign of family poverty, brought a niece with her in the disguise of maid. Miss Burney’s last King’s birthday ball under the royal roof was marked by a visit to Mrs. Schwellenberg’s room[70] from the young Duke of Clarence, our future sovereign, of which the diarist jotted down a long and most amusing description, though she has to apologise for not giving a full “idea of the energy of His Royal Highness’s language.” He insisted upon them all drinking the King’s health in champagne so often that some of the courtly attendants were a little shaky on their legs; and as for the Sailor Prince, he got so drunk that, as he told his sister next morning, “You may think how far I was gone, for I kissed the Schwellenberg’s hand”—and he might have added, bid her “Hold your potato jaw, my dear!” If this be a true sketch from high life, the novelist need not be accused of exaggerating the manners of her Braughtons and Captain Mirvans.

Among her last duties was expounding to the inquisitive King and Queen the allusions in Boswell’s Dr. Johnson, in 1791 the book of the day, which Miss Burney hardly approved of, being one of the few who “by acquaintance with the power of the moment over his unguarded conversation, know how little of his solid opinion was to be gathered from his accidental assertions.” Now she was at pains to vindicate to her royal[71] patrons “the serious principles and various excellences” of her famous friend. The year before, when Boswell visited her at Windsor, he had in vain pressed her to contribute “personal details” to his work. “You must give me some of your choice little notes of the Doctor’s; we have seen him long enough upon stilts; I want to show him in a new light. Grave Sam, and great Sam, and solemn Sam, and learned Sam—all these he has appeared over and over. Now I want to entwine a wreath of the graces across his brow; I want to show him as gay Sam, agreeable Sam, pleasant Sam: so you must help me with some of his beautiful billets to yourself.”

The last day of Miss Burney’s five years’ slavery dawned at Kew, from which she attended Her Majesty to St. James’s, and there took leave of her with deep emotion. Freedom, congenial society, and country air soon restored the lady’s health; and the faithless Colonel Digby’s place in her heart became more than filled by General D’Arblay, one of a colony of French émigrés settled at Juniper Hill above Mickleham, near her sister’s house, and her friends, the Lockes of Norbury. Lessons in one another’s language gave excuse for meetings, at which Cupid was[72] soon of the party. The not-over-young couple married in haste and privately, but seem never to have repented. With the proceeds of the bride’s next novel, Camilla, they built Camilla Cottage, still conspicuous, as Camilla Lacey, on the slopes above Box Hill station; but at the peace General D’Arblay went back to France, where his wife became for years an involuntary exile.

Mrs. Papendiek has a mischievous statement that Miss Burney was dismissed on account of the Queen’s displeasure that she used her spare hours for writing a novel in the palace; and that the authoress was much mortified by the loss of her post. But this seems mere scandal. Madame D’Arblay owned to writing an unsuccessful tragedy at Kew and Windsor; and some years after, when Camilla was published, she confessed to the King and Queen that the “skeleton” of it had been jotted down under their roof, at which they expressed no displeasure, but graciously acknowledged the dedication with a gift of a hundred guineas. The same gossiping authority says that Miss Jacobi did not recommend herself to the Queen, nor to “old Schwelly,” who refused to allow that niece-maid to dine at her table. A few years later Mrs.[73] Papendiek herself succeeded to the post once held by the novelist, for which she was much fitter, to judge by the space given to dress in her journals. But these records end before she entered upon her duties; and we know little more of her Court life but that she gained promotion in the royal household, from which she retired to spend her old age at Kew.

In 1805, another literary lady came into the service of Queen Charlotte, Miss Cornelia Knight, afterwards companion to the Prince Regent’s daughter. Her journals are much more discreet about the royal family than Miss Burney’s; and there is a hiatus in them for most of the period of her living at Windsor, where she gives little more than hints of dissensions and grudges in the highest circles, and a general impression that Kew had fallen out of its old favour. All these three writers had a common point, in being able to boast of Dr. Johnson’s acquaintance, most intimate in the case of Miss Burney.

Thorne, in his Environs of London, as also the official guide, have it that the King was confined, during his first illness, in the present palace, apart from his family; and this statement is[74] followed by a mob of guide-books, servum pecus, that often go tumbling after one another into the same ditch. But Miss Burney and other witnesses prove that it was not so; and Thorne has misled himself in his reference to George Rose’s Diary. Rose clearly refers to the next serious attack in 1801. It was whispered that in 1795 there had been a recurrence of the symptoms, passing off in a few days. But at the beginning of the next century, when the King’s mind was agitated by the resignation of Mr. Pitt on the Catholic Emancipation question, he caught a bad cold that ended as before. This time the illness began at Buckingham House; then, after His Majesty seemed fit to attend to business again, on his going to Kew a severe relapse took place, shown by his informing the Prince of Wales that he proposed to abdicate the English Crown and retire to Hanover or America.

It was now that he came to be separated from his family, and confined in the “Dutch House” under charge of the Willises, to whom he had taken a strong dislike, and is said to have struck one of them before his removal could be effected by force. The father no longer appears as taking the leading part in the King’s treatment; but[75] one of the sons for a time was the fly-wheel in the State, since through him all papers had to be presented for the royal signature. When the Lord Chancellor was admitted to the King’s sick-room, he vehemently declared, “as a gentleman and a king,” that he would sign no document nor perform any act of sovereignty unless he were that very day restored to his wife and daughters; and he was then taken back to the house over the way, to be still more or less closely watched by the Willises.

Dr. Thomas Willis,[1] writing at this time to Mr. Rose in the King’s name, tells that his own quarters are on Kew Green, “a few doors below the Rose and Crown,” a tavern still standing in less transmogrified state than its neighbour, the King’s Arms, also mentioned in books of that period. Kings reign and pass away; kingdoms flourish and fade, mansions rise and fall, while public-house signs often seem to have more permanence in them than most human institutions. Yet of them too transit gloria, if we may[76] believe the report that half the taverns of England at one time took Wilkes’s head for their sign, as to which evidence of popularity he himself used to tell how he overheard a loyal old lady’s remark, “Ah! he swings everywhere but where he ought.”

The second avowed derangement lasted, by fits and starts, till the summer of 1801. A course of sea-bathing at Weymouth again completed the patient’s recovery; but the dread of fresh attacks remained. The next one came in 1804, when his repugnance to the Willises was so marked that the doctor of Bedlam was employed. It is, of course, a common symptom of insanity, the turning against its best friends. And now poor George showed intermittent symptoms of dislike to the Queen herself, so that they began to occupy separate apartments, and are found not even dining together. The old domestic happiness was gone, along with the uncomfortable Kew House, that had so often been its scene. Yet, had the King kept his health, there seems reason to believe that Kew might have become more of a home to him than ever.

George III., returning to the plan set on foot[77] in the early years of his reign, took a fancy for building a castle here, after plans prepared by Wyatt, the then esteemed architect, in the bad taste of the period. The design is to be seen in one of the rooms of the present palace. The other house was pulled down in 1802, to make way for the new structure, which would have stood nearer the river-side, looking over to the not very royal town of Brentford, that “town of mud,” so strangely admired by the Georges and reviled by their poets. But the works were interrupted by the King’s fresh attack in 1804, and this building never got further than the state of a pretentious shell, which stood idle for nearly a quarter of a century, and was then demolished by George IV. That monarch had no more love for Kew than his father for Hampton Court. He had spent freely upon his own whims, on Carleton House, and on the Pavilion, the latter gimcrack medley a laughing-stock even for contemporary taste, and a byword with irreverent writers like Byron—

Shut up,—no, not the King, but the Pavilion,
Or else ’twill cost us all another million!

His father, unless for saddling us with so many expensive sons, had lived so carefully and[78] economically, that the nation need not have grudged him a “Folly” for once in a way. It was his spendthrift heir who began to restore Windsor Castle, demolishing the Queen’s Lodge there, and to rebuild Buckingham Palace in its present form.


When Kew House had disappeared, the sturdy “Dutch House,” now known as Kew Palace, became the occasional retreat of the royal family, its scant accommodations, no doubt, eked out by those other mansions held on Kew Green. It was here that Addington found the King dining rather before one o’clock on the simplest fare. His mind continued to be rather cranky, as shown by his strange freak of wearing a huge powdered wig in conjunction with the mediæval trappings of the Order of the Garter. Blindness came gradually on to increase his afflictions. In 1809 the nation joyfully celebrated his Jubilee, with much feasting of the poor—and the rich—relieving of prisoners for debt, pardoning of military culprits, illuminations, libations, and such memorials as the statue on the Weymouth Esplanade, that records the townsfolk’s gratitude to the King, whose stay at his favourite bathing-place had so often sent up the price of its[79] lodgings. We may be sure Kew, in its small way, was not behindhand in such loyal doings.

But Kew was hardly again to welcome the Father of his People. Repeated agitations went to overthrow his reason for good—the triumphant marches of Napoleon, the tarnishing of British arms not yet brightened by Wellington’s victories, the misconduct and unpopularity of his sons, the death of his beloved youngest daughter, Amelia. At the beginning of 1811, George had just wits enough left to consent to the Prince’s Regency. A few months later, Charles Knight was one of the Windsor crowd that saw their aged Sovereign in public for the last time. Henceforth he lived confined in the Castle, prisoner of blindness, by and by of deafness, cheered by music, by religious exaltation, and by delusive memories of the past, more than by flitting glimmers of melancholy reason, in one of which he had the satisfaction of learning Napoleon’s downfall and the recovery of Hanover. A most pathetic figure was the blind old King with his white beard, only now and then visited by those nearest to him. It is said that the selfish Regent was moved to tears when one day he overheard his father murmuring the complaint of Milton’s Samson:—


O dark, dark, dark! Amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark! Total eclipse
Without all hope of day!
O first created Beam, and Thou, Great Word,
“Let there be light! and light was over all,”
Why am I thus bereaved Thy prime decree?

When George III. was laid with his fathers in 1820, his stout-hearted and narrow-minded Queen had gone before him. To the last she tried to do her duty, according to her lights. Reconciled, at least outwardly, to her eldest son—indeed it appears that all along the strict moralist had something of woman’s weakness for that rake—she exerted herself to play the figurehead of his Court, taking the place of his discarded wife; and she shared his unpopularity to such an extent as to be hissed by the mob on her way to hold a Drawing-room; then, after the death of the Princess Charlotte, she had to face an outburst of popular resentment in the City. By the autumn of 1818 she was hopelessly prostrated by dropsy. On the way from London to Windsor her state became so serious that a halt was made at Kew Palace; and there she died in a chair, in the room now marked by a brass tablet, her last looks, it is said, fixed on a picture of The Dropsical Woman.


A more moving loss in the preceding year had been that of the Princess Charlotte, upon whose young life so much seemed to hang, while bitter hatred kept her parents apart. She died in childbirth at Claremont, wife of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, future King of the Belgians, who else might have taken in England the part afterwards filled by Prince Albert. When thus King George’s family of fifteen seemed like to die out, unless through the detested Ernest of Cumberland, three of the now elderly princes were hastily married in the same month—the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of Clarence, and the Duke of Kent. These weddings, that might come close on funerals, were performed privately in the drawing-room at Kew Palace, the two latter on the same day, but at different hours.

We know which of the branches took root. Next year was born the Princess Victoria, whose father died at Sidmouth about the same time as the King. The cause of his death is said to have been sitting in wet clothes after a long walk; and similar carelessness seems to have been usually the prelude to George III.’s afflictions, but for which the place of Windsor[82] might have been usurped by Kew, through this King’s favour.

To the same favour was mainly due the rise and progress of the Gardens, that have been hitherto left too much in shade upon pages that bear their name. Now that nothing but the present “Palace” remains to block them out of our view, it is time to trace their development from a princely hobby into a national institution.



Gardens appear to be an old story in this neighbourhood. The Monastery of Sheen, that stood on the flats somewhere about the present Observatory, was equipped with its orchard, vineyard, and other enclosures, through which the holy fathers, like those of Melrose, would be able to make “good kail, on Fridays when they fasted”; and let us trust that suppressed spite never drove them, as in a certain Spanish cloister, to keep a brother’s pet flowers “close-nipped on the sly.”

Kew’s connection with botany is as old as the Tudor time, when Dr. William Turner had a garden here. Of this physician, our first scientific botanist, Chaucer could not have said, “His study was but little on the Bible.” He was a disciple of Latimer, and a hot-gospeller,[84] among whose works figure titles like The Spiritual Nosegay, The Hunting of the Romish Wolf, A Preservative or Treacle against the Poison of Pelagius. Under Henry VIII. such a writer found the air of the Continent more wholesome than that of Hampton Court or Smithfield; and he spent some time in Germany, whence, along with Protestant theology, he brought home a collection of foreign plants. When it was safe for him to be back in England, he doubled the parts of chaplain and physician to the Protector Somerset, who built Syon House on the site of the convent that for him proved unlucky church plunder; this may account for his chaplain’s garden across the river. But Turner did not fall with his patron, rising to be Dean of Wells, though again for a time, under Mary, he had to extend his knowledge of foreign gardens. He is best remembered as author of a herbal which marks the planting in England of scientific botany; nor would this study seem so far aloof from his theological interests, if we consider a commonplace of our forefathers, thus versified by Cowley—

God the first garden made, and the first city, Cain.


The Kew mansion of Queen Elizabeth’s keeper was furnished with a garden, in which Her Majesty had delivered to her a nosegay, enriched with a valuable jewel and pendants of diamonds, worth four hundred pounds. This offering was only part of a series of handsome gifts that suggest how a visit from royalty in those days must have been indeed a visitation. In Bacon’s Essay, Of Gardens, we get some hint what a garden ought to be that seemed worthy of entertaining a queen; and after this model is said to have been laid out the garden of Moor Park in Hertfordshire.

The contents ought not well to be under thirty acres of ground, and to be divided into three parts; a green in the entrance, a heath or desert in the going forth, and the main garden in the midst, besides alleys on both sides; and I like well that four acres of ground be assigned to the green, six to the heath, four and four to either side, and twelve to the main garden. The green hath two pleasures: the one, because nothing is more pleasant to the eye than green grass kept finely shorn; the other, because it will give you a fair alley in the midst, by which you may go in front upon a stately hedge, which is to enclose the garden: but because the alley will be long, and, in great heat of the year, or day, you ought not to buy the shade in the garden by going in the sun through the green, therefore you are, of either side the green, to plant a covert alley, upon carpenters’[86] work, about twelve feet in height, by which you may go in shade into the garden. As for the making of knots, or figures, with divers-coloured earths, that they may lie under the windows of the house on that side on which the garden stands, they be but toys: you may see as good sights many times in tarts. The garden is best to be square, encompassed on all the whole four sides with a stately arched hedge; the arches to be upon pillars of carpenters’ work, of some ten feet high, and six feet broad; and the spaces between of the same dimensions with the breadth of the arch. Over the arches let there be an entire hedge of some four feet high, framed also upon carpenters’ work; and upon the upper hedge, over every arch, a little turret, with a belly enough to receive a cage of birds: and over every space between the arches some other little figure, with broad plates of round-coloured glass gilt, for the sun to play upon: but this hedge I intend to be raised upon a bank, not steep, but gently slope, of some six feet, set all with flowers. Also, I understand that this square of the garden should not be the whole breadth of the ground, but to leave on either side ground enough for diversity of side alleys, unto which the two covert alleys of the green may deliver you; but there must be no alleys with hedges at either end of this great enclosure—not at the hither end, for letting your prospect upon this fair hedge from the green—nor at the further end, for letting[2] your prospect from the hedge through the arches upon the heath.

In the next century Capel’s seat at Kew had a garden which, more than once, won high praise from that connoisseur, Evelyn. “The[87] orangery and myrtetum are most beautiful and perfectly kept.” Other gardens in this neighbourhood called forth Evelyn’s admiration—the Duke of Lauderdale’s at Ham House, “inferior to few of the best villas in Italy itself”; and Sir William Temple’s, “lately ambassador to Holland,” whose East Sheen villa, Temple Grove, has long been a boys’ school—taken for the select establishment figuring in Coningsby—where his Essay on Gardening might be read with more advantage than The Battle of the Books. Stephen Switzer, one of our first writers on gardening, mentions Lord Capel as distinguished in this pursuit, especially for “bringing over several sorts of fruit from France.”

Molyneux, heir of the Capels, had an interest in science, leading him to set up in his grounds a telescope, by means of which the Astronomer Royal Bradley began observations that led to his great discoveries of the aberration of light and the nutation of the earth’s axis. The site of that instrument is now marked by the sun-dial, some way off in front of Kew Palace, erected by William IV. as a memorial, which serves also to show whereabouts stood the vanished[88] Kew House, often confused with its neighbour. The Observatory, in what used to be the Richmond Gardens, may be considered as another monument to the scientific work so early carried on at Kew.

When Frederick, Prince of Wales, came to occupy Kew, curbed in his martial and political ambitions, he took to improving these grounds, for which purpose he employed William Kent, a bad painter, better esteemed as an architect, and best remembered by his ideas of what he called landscape gardening. Inigo Jones had not disdained to design gardens; and the “improvers” who, throughout the Georgian age, came to be busy about English country-houses, were more often than not architects by occupation as well as professed artists in landscape, who had to design groves and flower-beds, but also temples, grottos, terraces, steps, statues, fountains, and other ornaments in the taste of their time. Such pretentious gardeners now found plenty of employment at lordly seats like Stowe, Badminton, Wanstead, Canons Park, and others aspiring to the celebrity of elaborate pleasure-grounds.

The art of gardening, like architecture, has[89] had two main schools, that might be styled the Classic and the Gothic. The ancient model, flourishing longer on the Continent, dealt in straight lines and formal shapes, in parallel rows, accurate vistas and such trim patterns as the star and the quincunx. This prospered in England while our mediæval buildings were being replaced by Palladian structures. Our first great gardens of that period seem to have copied the conceits of the Italian style, with its terraces, balustrades, stairways, arcades, and stiff arbours among walls of clipped hedge. Le Nôtre in the seventeenth century headed in France a school of geometric gardening on a large scale, which spread across the Channel. William III. patronised among us the Dutch ideas of quaint formalism, especially shown in thickets of box and yew. Now came into great favour the Topiarian monstrosities of “verdant sculpture” still kept up here and there, notably in the Lakeland gardens of Levens Hall. So, in the age of Queen Anne, English gardens had fallen into the conventional affectation satirised by Pope.

No pleasing intricacies intervene,
No artful wildness to perplex the scene;
Grove nods at grove, each alley has a brother,
And half the platform just reflects the other.
The suffering eye inverted nature sees,
Trees cut to statues, statues thick as trees;
With here a fountain, never to be played,
And there a summer-house that knows no shade.

About the same time the Spectator complains: “Our trees rise in cones, globes, and pyramids. We see the marks of the scissors upon every plant and bush. I do not know whether I am singular in my opinion, but for my own part, I would rather look upon a tree in all its luxuriancy and diffusion of boughs and branches, than when it is thus cut and trimmed into a mathematical figure; and cannot but fancy that an orchard in flower looks infinitely more delightful than all the little labyrinths of the most finished parterre.” But Addison rather surprises us by pointing abroad for better models “in an agreeable mixture of garden and forest, which represent everywhere an artificial rudeness, much more charming than that neatness and elegancy which we meet with in those of our own country.”


At all events, the revolt against that formal orthodoxy was raised under the standard of what came to be called the English school, whose principles suggest those of Gothic architecture.[91] At first it was rather a Strawberry Hill Gothic which improvers practised in imitation of natural effects, heightened by art that clung to tawdry decorations. The cradle of this school was not far from Kew, at Twickenham, where Pope and Horace Walpole, “prince of cockle-shells,” set copies in a “more grand and rural manner,” advocated by a local author, Batty Langley, in his New Principles of Gardening. The rank of leader of the revolution has been claimed also for Stephen Switzer, who, though of foreign origin perhaps, was born in England, and from a working gardener became a nurseryman, then in 1715 published the Gardener’s Recreation, a work showing better education than might be expected from such a career, unless the writer got some literary craftsman to graft flowery tropes and classical tags upon his practical knowledge. Another gardener named Bridgeman is mentioned in connection with Kent, who designed ornamentation both outside and inside the Prince’s villa at Kew.

Kent is commonly called the father of the English or natural school of landscape gardening, and seems at least to have been its first exponent on a large scale. He was followed[92] by rival doctors of the picturesque, very apt to differ, to accuse one another of quackery and of malpractice in the exhibition of clumps, belts, vistas and sheets of water. The Picturesque and the Gardenesque became watch-words like Allopathy and Homœopathy. One practitioner was judged to starve Nature, another to use the knife too freely.

To improve, adorn, and polish they profess,
But shave the goddess whom they came to dress.

These artists in scenery, one of them insists, on a foundation of painting and gardening “must possess a competent knowledge of surveying, mechanics, hydraulics, agriculture, botany, and the general principles of architecture,” besides professing themselves cognoscenti and virtuosi. They dealt with gardens mainly as one feature in a larger field of operations, the laying-out of parks, pleasure-ground, fermes ornées, and such fanciful paradises as Shenstone made famous at the Leasowes. Into the park, of course, the garden proper passes by transition over the lawn turf that is the special beauty of English culture, often separated from less trim outskirts by the invisible barrier of a sunk fence, said to have been Kent’s invention, but this statement[93] seems dubious, as may be Horace Walpole’s story that the name Ha-ha expressed a rustic’s astonishment at being brought to an unexpected stand. But for poets like Cowley and Marvell, who courted “a green thought in a green shade,” it was left for writers of our time to dwell lovingly on the garden they love, however small; the tasteful authorities of that century hardly condescend to notice anything below the pleasure-grounds that ran into lordly demesnes. Humphry Repton, doyen of a later generation of improvers smiled at by Jane Austen, in his proposals for Woburn Abbey, distinguishes the gardens about a country-seat under the following heads:—-

The terrace and parterre near the house.

The private garden, only used by the family.

The rosary, or dressed flower garden, in front of the greenhouse.

The American garden, for plants of that country only.

The Chinese garden, surrounding a pool in front of the great Chinese pavilion, to be decorated with plants from China.

The botanic garden, for scientific classing of plants.

The animated garden, or menagerie.

And lastly, the English garden or shrubbery walk, connecting the whole; sometimes commanding views into each of these distinct objects and sometimes into the park and distant country.


This plan was much on the model of what had grown up at Kew, to which let us return, after recalling that before its grounds came into note, Queen Caroline had begun or enlarged the gardens about Richmond Lodge, extending them over an unkempt flat, as we understand from her private laureate, Stephen Duck. To poets of his school there was no beauty in heath and wild copses, like the rough patch of Sheen Common still left to the gratitude of our Bank-Holiday age.

Not so attractive lately shone the plain,
A gloomy waste, not worth the Muse’s strain;
Where thorny brakes the traveller repell’d,
And weeds and thistles overspread the field;
Till royal George, and heav’nly Caroline
Bid Nature in harmonious lustre shine;
The sacred fiat thro’ the chaos rung
And symmetry from wild disorder sprung.

But Nature might not be trusted to shine here by her own unvarnished charms; and the Richmond Gardens were bedecked with “follies” in the taste of the time: “Merlin’s Cave,” that appears to have housed a waxwork collection as well as the library of which Stephen Duck was keeper; a hermitage, inhabited by busts of distinguished men; a[95] menagerie, a maze, and, of course, a grotto, to gratify “heav’nly Caroline’s” admiration for what “royal George” bluntly denounced as “childish silly stuff.” Rival poets celebrated “the much sung grotto of the Queen,” one under the sly pseudonym of “Peter Drake, a fisherman of Brentford,” making fun of Stephen Duck, the so-called thresher-poet.

The widowed Princess of Wales, prompted by her friend Bute, showed a warm interest in horticulture; and under her was nursed the Botanic Garden of exotic plants that became the special feature of the Kew grounds. They were laid out by Lancelot Brown, a self-taught gardener, so celebrated in his day as to be known by the name of “Capability” Brown. He, indeed, rather than Kent, is sometimes styled the father of landscape improvers, among whom Repton, for one, speaks of him as his master or forerunner. Brown appears to have insisted masterfully on the carrying out of his own ideas, if we are to believe the story of George III. chuckling over his death to an under-gardener: “Now you and I can do as we please here!” In Mason’s Heroic Epistle, Brown is said to have had a free hand over the[96] Richmond Garden also, where he destroyed Queen Caroline’s fanciful structures, so as to be accused of having “transformed to lawn what late was Fairyland.”

Under Bute’s patronage the post of superintendent of the Botanic Garden was given, but seems not to have been made pukka, to Sir John Hill, as he styled himself on the credit of a Swedish decoration, that humbug physician and author, best remembered now by Garrick’s epigram:—-

For physic and farces, his equal there scarce is:
His farces are physic, his physic a farce is.


Another questionable authority in taste, introduced by Bute to the Princess and her son, was William Chambers, an architect who built himself into no small note. In his youth, as supercargo of a vessel he had travelled as far as China, then a land of fresh wonder, to bring back extravagant notions, set forth in his Dissertation on Oriental Gardening, and in a mania for Chinoiseries, which was let loose at Kew. Hence the building of the Pagoda in 1762, of a House of Confucius, and of a mosque, with temples, grottos, and other outlandish erections, most of which have long[97] disappeared. He also built the Observatory where Richmond Lodge came to be demolished. His innovations were not confined to buildings, as appears in Mason’s satire:—

Now to our lawns of dalliance and delight,
Join we the groves of horror and affright.

The architect-gardener declared himself very complacent about the dealings with Nature here carried out. “Originally the ground was one continued dead flat, the soil was in general barren, without either wood or water. With so many disadvantages it was not easy to produce anything even tolerable in gardening; but princely munificence overcame all difficulties. What was once a desert is now an Eden!”

As controller of the works actively pushed on at Kew, Chambers prospered so much as to be knighted, and to buy Whitton Place, near Hounslow, where the third Duke of Argyll, brother and heir of Jeanie Deans’s protector, himself better known as Lord Islay, had established a nursery of exotic trees, which it was his hobby to naturalise in England. On the death of this duke the cream of his collection seems to have been transplanted to Kew, now become a truly royal botanic garden,[98] unsurpassed in England, with a fame that went on growing till Erasmus Darwin was bound to note it in his herbarium of verse.

So sits enthron’d in vegetable pride
Imperial Kew by Thames’s glittering side;
Obedient sails from realms unfurrow’d bring
For her the unnam’d progeny of spring;
Attendant nymphs her dulcet mandates hear,
And nurse in fostering arms the tender year,
Plant the young bulb, inhume the living seed,
Prop the weak stem, the erring tendril lead;
Or fan in glass-built fanes the stranger flowers
With milder gales, and steep with warmer showers.
Etc. etc.

A much forgotten bard, named Henry Jones, who had been an Irish bricklayer, sought to win patronage, like Stephen Duck, by a whole poem in two cantos on Kew Gardens, a versified catalogue of their contents, with a high-pitched description of the Pagoda, and flowing flattery of their master, as to all which the less said the better. The same title was given to one of poor Chatterton’s effusions; but he, reduced in his garret to ape Junius by “patriotic” letters signed Decimus, lets the garden run under his pen to weeds of spite and scandal.

Hail Kew! thou darling of the sacred Nine,
Thou eating-house of verse, where poets dine!


It has already been told how George III. enlarged the demesne at Kew, buying up some fields about the site of the Pagoda, and eventually getting the lane closed that separated it from the Richmond grounds. The Botanic Garden proper was enclosed and managed apart from the general pleasure-grounds, within which seem to have been dioceses or spheres of influence looked after by different employés. It is not quite clear to me how these gardeners were ranked or related; perhaps, as in the case of higher officials, their functions may sometimes have clashed, or been complicated by royal favour. Mrs. Papendiek records that in her time Haverfield was the King’s gardener, who lived at Kew, his second son acting as his assistant there, as did an elder son in the more remote Richmond garden; and that after him the sons succeeded to these appointments. She also mentions the Queen’s flower garden up Richmond Lane, where one Green was the gardener, who had nursed some orange trees to be the pride of his life, but was heart-broken when they dwindled for want of means to enlarge his hothouses, though he offered to pay half the cost out of his own pocket. This[100] diarist, not always to be depended on in matters outside her own observation, intimates that the Board of Works declined undertaking any improvement in the Queen’s private garden; from which we should understand that the Botanic Garden was partly carried on at the public cost, where Chambers had already built an orangery, now turned into the Timber Museum. One thing appears plain, that even the subordinate gardeners had good places, when Green could offer £250 as his contribution towards those denied hothouses, and Haverfield brought up his youngest son to be a clergyman. In all, the Gardens came to cover some 120 acres, about half their present extent, as might have seemed a small matter to Tamerlane, who boasted of his garden measuring 120 miles round Samarcand.

The chief name among Kew gardeners of this reign was William Aiton’s, who, if he had spelt himself Aytoun, like others of the family, would at once be recognised as coming from the North. Waiving the question as to whether Adam, the first gardener, were not a Scot and a Presbyterian, one finds it notorious that Scotsmen have renowned themselves in planting the[101] richer plots of the South, a fact explained by philosophers of Dr. Johnson’s school in the sneer that a man who has coaxed flowers and fruit to grow beyond the Tweed has an easy task elsewhere. Of course this is ignorant prejudice, as many a demesne might show in Caledonia stern and wild, where nothing is needed for exuberance but the “fertilizer” we have seen running short even in the Queen’s garden at Kew.

Aiton was a son of the soil, driven out of his own Lanarkshire Eden by poverty, who, like so many other Scots unwelcome to Wilkes and Johnson, came to seek fortune in London. He got a place at the Physic Garden of Chelsea, and thence, perhaps by patronage of Bute, was put in charge of the Princess Dowager’s Botanic Garden, whose reputation throve with his own. His functions must have grown beyond the limits of the Botanic Garden, then only a few acres, for this was the Scotsman who set Cobbett to work, among other jobs, at sweeping up leaves by the Pagoda, on the farther side of the Kew grounds. John Rogers, who worked in the gardens at this time, says that on the death[102] of the elder Haverfield, Aiton came into the entire management both at Kew and Richmond. His first appointment was in the last year of George II. A quarter of a century later, we find him clearly head of the whole establishment. Aiton certainly rose to be no mere working gardener, who published a catalogue of the plants at Kew. He held his post till towards the end of the century, and was then succeeded by his son William Townsend Aiton, to rule at Kew for half a century more; while another son, John, had charge of the royal gardens at Windsor and at Kensington.


In the Aiton succession, we come across the fact that a talent for the study of plants is apt to be hereditary. There were two Linnés, not equal in fame, four De Jussieus, three De Candolles, three Darwins of different degrees of note in science; and for more than a century Kew Gardens were under the two dynasties of Aitons and Hookers. In the reign of William Aiton the second, among Scotsmen finding employment in Kew Gardens was a William Macnab, who rose to be foreman here, and in 1810 went to the Edinburgh Botanical Garden as curator or principal gardener. One cannot[103] propitiate Dr. Johnson’s Manes by describing the Edinburgh Garden as a branch from Kew. It is, in fact, an older institution, founded in Charles II.’s reign, and now grown into a model, both of utile and dulce, worthy the Modern Athens. The point I have to make is that William Macnab was succeeded at Edinburgh by his son James Macnab, godfather of the Cupressus Macnabiana, etc., who managed this garden till his death, 1878, and whose only son, William Ramsay Macnab, bade fair, through a too short life, to continue the family distinction in the botanical world.

This botanist by birth and birthplace was a schoolfellow of mine, whose early career deserves notice. His masters could have seen little promise in such a scholar, for, under the régime then styled education, our lessons simply did not interest him, and I often wondered how he picked up the quantum of Latin necessary for his medical examinations. But at fourteen he printed a monograph, either on ferns or on seaweeds, of which I had a copy but cannot lay hands on it. At the same age he gave a lecture on plant life, illustrated by diagrams prepared by himself. He also excited the wondering admiration[104] of his schoolfellows by practising the then young art of photography. Before reaching school days, he had bought his first microscope. Not yet out of his teens, he had what I had heard called the best collection of beetles in Scotland. About this time I accompanied him and some older scientific adventurers on a natural history expedition to the Bass Rock, when, unfortunately, all the pundits were so overcome by sea-sickness, that nothing could then be added to the stock of knowledge.

Macnab left our school in dudgeon against a master who, having prescribed an essay on starch, not unnaturally accused him of plagiarising an elaborate composition based on original experiment. From another school he went early to Edinburgh University, and if I am not mistaken, to Germany, where he used his time so well that he had to wait some months to come of age for taking his M.D. degree at twenty-one. After a short digression into lunacy practice, he followed his bent in a professorship of Natural History at the Agricultural College of Cirencester, and soon became Botany Professor at the Royal College of Science, Dublin. There he died prematurely,[105] else his life would surely have figured on some more authoritative pages than mine. The last time I saw him, if I remember right, he was staying at Kew, engaged in some work or study in the Gardens where his grandfather had been foreman. The above digression relates to the fact that the Kew gardeners were apt to be kinsmen, or at least kindly Scots. Macnab, Lockhart, Begbie, Kerr, Fraser, Morison—these are only some names occurring early among the staff to show how the Aiton dynasty did not overlook their countrymen’s claims to employment.

If not scientific men themselves, the Aitons had the advice and help of the best naturalists of their day, specially of Sir Joseph Banks, Captain Cook’s companion, who introduced to this country the fuchsia, the hydrangea, and other exotic plants. Under this President of the Royal Society, less distinguished collectors were sent out to all parts of the world, sometimes in ships of war, to procure specimens for Kew. Two such emissaries were on board the Bounty on its celebrated voyage, one of them sticking by the commander, the other going off with the mutineers. To the honour of Banks, it is told that when consignments of rare[106] specimens intended for the royal gardens at Paris were captured by our cruisers, he several times used his influence to have them sent on intact, a scientific courtesy that repaid the orders of the French Government to treat Cook’s vessels as neutral, when war with England broke out during his last expedition. Banks, indeed, a wealthy man who sought no salaried post, appears to have been practically the scientific authority of Kew Gardens in his lifetime, well deserving the royal confidence, though he came in for his share of caricaturing as a Court favourite. His picture, and those of other noted botanists, are treasured in the Kew Museums, where the mere literary man will often be put to shame to find how many names he never heard, live not forgotten among the votaries of a special study.

Under Aiton the second, Kew Gardens began to fall off, lying as they did in the shade of royal neglect. George IV. began by showing some interest in them, which soon withered away. They were opened to “all well-dressed strangers” on Sundays in summer, the Botanic Garden being accessible at other times to those who took an interest in it; but the empty[107] palace no longer attracted people of fashion, and for the ordinary citizen Kew was still rather out of the way, though “stages” left Piccadilly every quarter of an hour in the season, and in 1808 there were already “houses of entertainment” on Kew Green, as we find particularised in a guide-book of that date. Later on, the Gardens were open every day except Sunday. But by this time they were ceasing to be attractive. Aiton had been appointed director of all the royal parks and gardens, employment which appears to have taken off his attention from Kew, where money as well as interest ran short. The part kept up shrank to the dozen or score acres of the original Botanic Gardens, the rest relapsing into thickets that made a game preserve for Ernest, King of Hanover. A formidable rival was the Horticultural Society’s Garden at Turnham Green, recently removed to Wisley Common. By the beginning of Victoria’s reign, the Kew Gardens had fallen so low that there was a talk of breaking them up and dispersing the collection, to the indignation of the inhabitants, who had an old grievance that they had given part of their Green to enlarge this royal property, on[108] the understanding that they were to be freely admitted to its amenities.

From such extinction Kew was rescued in 1840 by the report of a parliamentary committee, upon which steps were taken and funds provided for bringing the Gardens to their present position at once as a popular resort and as a national scientific collection, while still they remained nominally a royal demesne. Aiton being pensioned off, Sir W. J. Hooker, formerly Botanical Professor at Glasgow, was appointed Director. Here appears another case of heredity, for Hooker was the son of a botanist, and came to be replaced by his own son.


Under his management the Gardens grew apace, the botanic part being much enlarged, while the Museums of Economic Botany were now set on foot. Decimus Burton, the fashionable architect of his day, was called in to design new buildings like the Palm House, unrivalled in England unless by Paxton’s Great Conservatory at Chatworth, which was the model of the Crystal Palace. To make room for such useful structures, a sweep had to be made of many of the fanciful “temples” and other gimcrackeries of the Georgian age, specimens of which are[109] still dotted about the grounds, now laid out on a principle of compromise with formality, “the aim being to weave the various collections of trees and shrubs into a whole, which should avoid an artificial and yet yield an agreeable effect, while still subserving a definite purpose.”

In 1865, Sir W. J. Hooker was succeeded by Sir J. D. Hooker, who in his younger days had made adventurous journeys to the Himalayas and elsewhere in the interest of botanical science. He still lives at a good old age, after twenty years’ service having given place to his son-in-law, Sir W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, who also has gone on the emeritus list; and the present head is Colonel Prain, whose experience in India should give a new strain of efficiency.

Sir Joseph Hooker’s management was marked by a vehement quarrel between him and his official superior, Mr. Ayrton, head of the Board of Works, a Kew man by birth, who perhaps for that reason felt himself the more moved to aggressive interference. The scientific world warmly took up the cause of its confrère; and Ayrton earned general unpopularity by his overbearing tone; but Sir Algernon West, then Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Gladstone,[110] after having had a good deal of trouble over arranging the dispute, gives us his opinion that there were faults on both sides.

It is understood that in the management of the Gardens there has been sometimes a certain friction between the demands of a scientific establishment and of a scene for popular recreation. But these two ideas seem now fairly harmonised. With the exception of isolated penetralia, the Gardens are open from 10 or 12 A.M. till sunset, and on Sunday afternoons. This was one of the first of our public institutions to be thrown open on Sunday, by the influence, it is said, of Prince Albert prevailing over the Sabbatarian austerity that dominated Mrs. Proudie’s generation.

As the Kew Gardens flourished, those of Richmond had withered away. The royal pleasure-grounds on that side were turned into George III.’s model farm, then into a park, which has become a golf-course and a recreation-ground, though it was only the other day that its quasi-public character came to be fully recognised by a foot-bridge thrown over the muddy moat cutting off this enclosure from the river-bank. The site of Richmond Lodge is approximately[111] marked by the Observatory, built for George III. by Sir William Chambers, with a special view to the transit of Venus observed by Cook and Banks from Tahiti. When Kew Gardens were taken under the wing of Parliament, the Royal Society refused a free gift of this building; but it was kept going by subscriptions, then under the auspices of the Board of Trade became a Meteorological Station, with the important function of testing instruments like barometers, thermometers, and sextants, to be hall-marked with the initials of Kew Observatory. But of late years it proved not secluded enough for this work, the electric currents induced by tramways threatening its most delicate operations, so that the magnetic branch was recently transplanted to the wilds of Dumfries, where also, one hears, it had a narrow escape from interference in being housed in walls at first chosen from an ironstone quarry. Other parts of the work are now carried on at the new Physical Laboratory in Bushy Park.

A ha-ha fence cuts off Richmond Old Deer Park, as it is called, from Kew Gardens, which in all cover a space of some 250 acres. The wire fence has gone that marked the now hardly valid[112] distinction between the Botanic Garden proper and the former pleasure-grounds. Queen Victoria showed her interest in the institution by granting successive stretches of private garden, to be added to what had become practically a public one. At the end of her reign the so-called Kew Palace, the old “Dutch House,” was given up to be opened as a museum of pictures and other relics of its history. This is soon reached by the broad walk leading straight on from the chief entrance gates on Kew Green. The Victoria Gate, on the Richmond Road, is the approach for visitors coming from Kew Station. There are other entrances both from the Richmond Road and from the riverside, where, opposite Brentford’s wharves, one closed gate reminds us how this was once a royal home.




Kew itself does not stand in the forefront of its own story, for long remaining little more than an obscure river-side hamlet, half a dozen miles out of London, connected by a ferry with Brentford, and with its quaint little neighbour Strand-on-the-Green, which might have risen to equal note had Gunnersbury or Chiswick taken a king’s fancy. It was not till the eighteenth century that Kew began to burgeon under royal favour; and for the first half of that century, Richmond lay basking on the sunnier side of patronage. When George III. left Richmond for Kew, the quiet village blossomed forth as in a forcing-house, to grow into a banyan grove of princely dwellings.

The first distinguished resident mentioned is Sir Peter Lely, as having a country house on[114] the Green, where the Herbarium now stands. From first to last he may have been a good deal in this neighbourhood, for he painted Charles I. at Hampton Court, and after doing the same service for Cromwell, he became the fashionable artist of Charles II.’s Court, whose frail beauties still live on his canvas. His successor in vogue was Sir Godfrey Kneller, who contributed to artistic vocabulary in his portraits of the Kit-Cat Club, that had its rendezvous at Barn Elms, now the Ranelagh Club. He also settled not far off, in the house behind Twickenham named Kneller Hall, that, after various vicissitudes, has become the Army School of Music.

Swift, in his letters to Stella, mentions dining with the Duke of Argyll at Kew in 1712. I do not find any other allusion to this residence: perhaps Swift landed at Kew and went on to Sudbrook Park, where the Duke had a seat, that should rather be reckoned as belonging to Petersham, united with Kew as one dependent district of the Kingston parish. This mansion was near the famous avenues of his birthplace, the Duke of Lauderdale’s Ham House, said to have been originally intended for Prince Henry, son of James I., and chosen by the Lords of the[115] Council as a fitting retreat for James II., when the Prince of Orange was about to enter London. It would be the convenience of water transit that had dotted the Thames side with lordly mansions and villas; and of course it should be borne in mind how, at a time when the Court could be spoken of as moving from Kensington to London, places like Kew and Richmond were practically as far from town as now are Haslemere or Missenden, while the champaign rusticity of the former would be more to the taste of Cowley’s and Pope’s generations.

Kew is said to have had some sort of chapel before the Reformation; but it was not till 1714 that its church was built, the brick building on the Green, that, with additions and dubious ornaments, has mellowed into a specimen of what may be called the ugly picturesque. The excrescence at the east end marks the sepulchral chamber containing the Duke of Cambridge’s tomb. The organ is understood to have been Handel’s, and to have been played on by George III. The gallery, added in 1805, still keeps its dusty state as a royal pew, though now used on occasion for less illustrious worshippers. Both inside and outside are many memorials to persons,[116] famous or forgotten, some of whom must presently be mentioned. In the close-packed churchyard an unusual number of foreign names seem related to the German colony of Queen Charlotte’s attendants, and to the Hanover connection long kept up through the Dukes of Cambridge and Cumberland, the former of these princes having acted as regent or viceroy of Hanover till the Salic law put his unbeloved brother on its throne.

One of the early ministers at Kew was that Stephen Duck, already mentioned, who began life as a Wiltshire labourer, then by dint of self-education came to be known as the “thresher-poet,” taken up by Queen Caroline, to the jealousy of unpatronised poets like Swift. She settled a pension on him, made him first a Yeoman of the Guard, then, as a post more suitable to the poet than to the peasant, Keeper of her library at Richmond. He married her housekeeper at Kew; and one takes to be his daughters the Misses Duck, who half a century later are found in charge of the Dutch House, the last of them living till 1818. The father’s ambition led him on to take Orders; and he preached with much acceptation at Kew Chapel. Before long[117] he had been put into the Rectory of Byfleet under St. George’s Hill; then, a few years later, only fifty years old, he drowned himself in a fit of dejection. But for the merit of being able “to burst his life’s invidious bar,” he hardly deserved patronage, his verses being a mere echo of the epithetical commonplaces of a generation whose rhyming shepherds hardly knew a crook from a flail. Perhaps the most readable of his effusions is The Thresher’s Labour, an account of a farm-servant’s life, in which now and then he drops pseudo-Arcadianism for touches of human nature and actual experience.

Soon as the rising Sun has drank the Dew,
Another Scene is open to our View:
Our Master comes, and at his heels a Throng
Of prattling Females, armed with Rake and Prong;
Prepared, whilst he is here, to make his Hay;
Or, if he turns his Back, prepared to play;
But here, or gone, sure of this comfort still,
Here’s Company, so they may chat their Fill.
Ah! were their hands so active as their Tongues,
How nimbly then would move the Rakes and Prongs!

In 1769, the Kew Chapel of ease was promoted to be a parish Church. Some ten years before this, Kew had another rise in life by the building of a bridge, under an Act of Parliament obtained by the owner of the ferry. There had also been[118] a ford at low water. The first wooden bridge was a somewhat makeshift structure, which after a quarter of a century or so became replaced by another, standing to the beginning of the present century, when a new Kew Bridge was opened by Edward VII., the old one condemned as too steep of access.

Its bridge gave Kew an advantage not easily realised by our generation. Putney Bridge was only a little older, though a bridge of boats had been thrown across the river there at the time of the Civil War. Westminster Bridge was not built till 1738, an improvement hotly opposed by various vested interests, the cry being that it would ruin the City as well as the watermen. For centuries, unless by water, the Thames could not be crossed between London Bridge and Kingston. This fact explains the roundabout manner of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s attack upon the City in that ill-managed insurrection against the Spanish marriage that cost Lady Jane Grey’s head as well as his own. In my youth, at least, one was apt to take one’s notion of his proceedings from Harrison Ainsworth’s Tower of London, where a desperate storm of the Tower is described, with fierce hand-to-hand[119] fighting, on the model of a like scene in Ivanhoe. But this was all imagination. As a matter of fact, Wyatt failed to get across London Bridge, the drawbridge in the middle having been taken up and the gate beyond being stoutly guarded against his advance. The Southwark people, who had welcomed him to the Borough, begged him to be gone when the Tower guns were turned upon their homes. Setting out in the morning, hampered by cannon to be dragged along through miry ways, he did not get to Kingston till well on in the afternoon. Here, too, the bridge had been broken, but its defenders fled from his guns; some sailors swam across to fetch back barges moored on the farther side; the gap was hastily repaired with planks; then before midnight he was able to continue his march. A gun breaking down delayed him at Brentford, then perhaps the Kew people were for the nonce rather thankful not to have a bridge, as that force passed by to assail London on the Middlesex side. So must they have been in the next century, when across the river they could hear the shouts and shots with which Royalists set Roundheads flying through the narrow streets of Brentford.


The bridge put Kew upon improving its roads. The King, at his own expense, to give work for the unemployed in winter, had a carriage-way made to Richmond, hitherto reached directly by a rough lane. Then the inhabitants of surrounding parishes got up a subscription to mend the ways on the Surrey side from Putney Bridge “in order that His Majesty may not be obliged to take the dusty road from Brentford when he honours them with his residence in summer.” So now we come to Kew’s palmy days, in the seventies of the eighteenth century, while George and Charlotte lived much here, before their flitting to Windsor; and many new houses were built to accommodate the attendants and hangers-on of the rustic Court. Mrs. Papendiek, who was brought up at Kew, gives us glimpses of the village in its state of transformation, among them such a curious one as this:—

The farmhouse, now Hollis’s, was Mrs. Clewly’s, who supplied the inhabitants with milk, butter, eggs, pork and bacon. She, becoming a widow, married a Mr. Frame, whose son, by a former marriage, lived upon housebreaking and footpad robberies. Upon his father becoming an inhabitant of Kew, the question was inquired into, when he said: “I always take care to act so as to escape justice. Blows and murders belong not to my gang; and if I am[121] allowed to take my beer on the Green, and sit with my neighbours, without being insulted, I shall take care that no harm happen here. I am well aware of the bearings of the place.” We all spoke with him as a friend when we met; and of my father he asked for any trifle he wanted, and was never refused.

This diarist had not always such a friendly experience of highwaymen, for on their way back from Vauxhall to Kew, her party was stopped and robbed at Mortlake. The encounter was so little expected that Mr. Papendiek had laid away his new watch in a corner of the coach, and when our schoolgirl, as she then was, heard the robbers say that the ladies should not be molested, she hid the watch for him; then, on her giving it back to its owner, the danger past, he rewarded her by making sheep’s eyes, which in time brought about a marriage.

But it was soon not necessary for Kew folk to seek amusement so far off as Vauxhall, for, as the lady tells us of 1776—“Kew now became quite gay, the public being admitted to the Richmond Gardens on Sundays, and to Kew Gardens on Thursdays. The Green on these days was covered with carriages, more than £300 being often taken at the bridge on Sundays. Their Majesties were to be seen at the windows[122] speaking to their friends, and the royal children amusing themselves in their own gardens. Parties came up by water, too, with bands of music, to sit opposite the Prince of Wales’s house. The whole was a scene of enchantment and delight; Royalty living among their subjects to give pleasure and to do good.” The brothers of Granville Sharpe, the philanthropist, kept moored at Fulham a notable fleet of pleasure-boats, one of them a barge or “yacht,” serving as house-boat in summer, on which the owners took trips up the Thames, sometimes stopping to serenade the royal family or to have the honour of receiving on board the King and Queen, or the young princes under care of their tutors. This stretch of the Thames is said to have been the nursery of pleasure-boating; but though a canoe and a shallop are enumerated among the Sharpes’ craft, we do not yet hear of fine gentlemen, still less ladies, undertaking to row themselves.

The village began to grow apace, old houses being pulled down or enlarged, and new ones built towards Richmond along what is now the thoroughfare of a big London suburb. The population was swollen by all sorts of[123] newcomers—from ladies-in-waiting to gardeners, from preceptors to soldiers, for a guard was kept at Kew House, near which barracks had to be provided. One winter, the King is said to have found work for his idle garrison by setting them to make the Hollow Walk, now filled with such a fine summer show of rhododendrons.

There would be no want of church services then at a place well equipped with scholars and divines. Mrs. Papendiek mentions two bishops as living at Kew, besides subordinate tutors of the princes. While the royal family were in residence, they had at hand Sir John Pringle, “physician to the Person,” and one or other of the brothers Cæsar and Pennell Hawkins, the royal surgeons, “for the Queen would have two of them always on the spot to watch the constitutions of the royal children.” Later on, as we saw, the King’s illness brought a swarm of medical men about Kew, at least as lodgers or visitors. Rather earlier, Lord Bute, who was but a poor nobleman till enriched through his wife, the celebrated Lady Mary Wortley Montague’s daughter, appears to have occupied two houses on Kew Green, that now known as Cambridge Cottage, and the Church House, described as[124] his study, perhaps used by him for a botanical collection. His interest in botany, one must recall, was the foundation of Kew Gardens. He privately printed for the Queen’s benefit a work on the subject in nine quarto volumes; and when he moved to a more lordly home at Luton, his first care was to form there a large botanical garden of his own.


The servants of the royal house, too, required accommodation, which was by no means humble in every case, for some of them must have made a good thing out of their places. Miss Amelia Murray, whose mother had a post about the princesses later on, tells us how “a bottle of wine every two days, and unnecessary wax candles, were, I remember, the perquisites of the ladies’ maids. Candles were extinguished as soon as lit, to be carried off by servants; pages were seen marching out before the royal family with a bottle of wine sticking out of each pocket; and the State page called regularly on each person who attended the drawing-rooms, with his book, to receive the accustomed gratuity.” In earlier days at Kew, George and Charlotte may have been able to keep a sharper eye on waste; but their economy would always be[125] counterweighed by custom and flunkeydom. Mrs. Papendiek, brought up in the air of the backstairs, has much to say on matters of concern to those high-minded servants, their jealousies, their stifled quarrels, their pickings, the unworthiness of saving in a king’s household, and such like. She mentions incidentally a footman named Fortnum leaving the service to set up as a grocer in Piccadilly, where his name would wax into renown. Another name now brought to note in London was Almack’s, the Earl of Bute’s butler, M’Call, a form which this canny Aberdonian, in view of his countrymen’s unpopularity, thought well to anglify thus in appealing for fashionable patronage.

The taste for music fostered by the royal family drew many professional players into the neighbourhood, mostly foreigners, such as J. C. Bach, son of the great composer; Abel, the viol da gamba player; and Fischer, Gainsborough’s son-in-law, celebrated for his performances on the oboe, all of whom were well known to Mrs. Papendiek as an amateur in their art. The arts of design were also well represented by foreigners, at a period when John Bull affected the pride of being still rather stockish and shy with the[126] Muses. We hear of Mr. Englehart as living on the road to Richmond, one of several of the name who rose to note as artists or engravers. Another German, who practised as a limner or miniature-painter—the photographers of that day—and who appears to have designed the coinage of that reign, was Jeremiah Meyer, so thriving as to have a home at Kew as well as one in town. Mrs. Papendiek states that he caught his death by a dutiful visit of inquiry at Kew House after the King’s first serious illness; Meyer had himself been ailing, and on that errand he suffered from the ill-humour of the page Ernst—once George’s favourite attendant, but about this time in disgrace—who “kept poor Meyer waiting for him in a room that had just been washed, and which was therefore cold and damp. He returned home in haste, but fresh cold succeeded. A relapse came on, and poor Meyer was no more.” He has a monument in Kew Church, with an epitaph by Hayley.

Mrs. Papendiek’s chief friends among the artistic colony settled hereabouts were the Zoffanys, who had a house at Strand on the Green, where indeed the master was not always at home. That erratic German genius, John[127] Zoffany, having studied art in Italy, sought fortune in London, like other esurient foreigners. After an ordeal of poverty, he rose to note by his theatrical portraits, and came for a time into the sun of Court patronage. His speciality was portrait groups like that which was to include with the Vicar of Wakefield’s family “as many sheep as the painter would put in for nothing.” He painted one such of George III. and his family, and a notable one of his brethren in the then young Royal Academy, founded under this King, who was an interested, if not very discriminating, patron of art. Another of his celebrated pictures, The Last Supper—in which St. Peter is said to be his own portrait, and for the rest of the Apostles Thames-side fishermen sat as models—he gave for an altar-piece to the church at Brentford.

At the height of his renown, Zoffany went off to Italy for years, with a commission from the King to copy the Tribune of the Uffizi Gallery at Florence. This task he executed well, but as in his absence he had accepted other commissions from Kaiser Joseph II., and the title of Baron, an honour resented by George for a British subject, he seems to have lost the royal favour.[128] Again, in a fit of disgust or adventurousness, he started off to India, where he must have had a wide field much to himself as a portrait painter, and thence brought back gorgeous pictures of A Tiger Hunt and A Cock Fight, to revive his vogue in England. The latter picture had the curious history of costing an estate to a young Irishman who figures in it, his father, Robert Gregory, having threatened to disinherit him if ever he took part in cock-fighting.

Mrs. Papendiek grew up intimate with Mrs. Zoffany, though this lady was looked on askance in the genteel society of Kew, having been a girl of humble birth, seduced by the painter at fourteen and married afterwards on the death of a deserted wife. She so far lived down the rather squalidly romantic story of her youth that her daughter’s hand was sought by a rich suitor, Colonel Martin of Leeds Castle, who shut himself up here in single cursedness when the obstinate young lady insisted on marrying a plain and awkward young man named Horn, whose father kept a prosperous school at Chiswick, a match that turned out ill—for the couple and for the school. Zoffany, his wanderings[129] at an end, lived into the eighteenth century at Strand on the Green, and was buried in Kew Churchyard, by the east end of the church.

On the south side, under the wall, are close together the graves of Meyer, Kirby, and Gainsborough, the last under a tomb restored in our time. Thomas Gainsborough lies here, not as a Kew resident, but buried by his own desire beside his lifelong friend and fellow East Anglian, Joshua Kirby, F.R.S., who began life as a coach-painter at Ipswich, and rose to fame as a writer on art and architecture. Helped on by Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds, Kirby had the luck to become teacher of perspective drawing to Prince George, and the King liked this master so well as to give him a permanent appointment as Clerk of the Works set on foot in Kew Gardens, under Sir William Chambers. At a house by the ferry-side he passed the rest of his life in ease and respect; but to our generation may be best known as father of Mrs. Trimmer, and uncle of William Kirby, the entomologist.

Yet, indeed, so short-winded is fame in many a case, there may be sons and daughters of this generation who know not the name of Mrs. Trimmer, once so familiar in every well-ordered[130] schoolroom; while her History of the Robins stands still on our publishers’ lists. One of the group of literary-minded ladies who had the privilege of sitting at Dr. Johnson’s feet, she married a Brentford man, and went to live across the river, where she brought up a round dozen of children on the best of principles. She seems to have been a model of virtues from her youth. When at Kew she carried on a contest of early rising with a friend on the opposite bank, the first up hanging a handkerchief out of her window as triumphant token. Mrs. Barbauld’s popularity as a writer for the young stirred Mrs. Trimmer to publish her lessons to her own large family, which won great success, helped by her earnest Evangelical Churchmanship, whereas the author of Evenings at Home was no better than a Unitarian. After the example of Raikes of Gloucester, Mrs. Trimmer took a prominent part in starting Sunday-schools in her own neighbourhood, and was consulted by Queen Charlotte on this matter. Other causes she had at heart were kindness to animals, and “the injured African”; it may have been one of her sons who objected on principle to being caned at school because he understood the instrument to be the fruit of slave[131] labour. She corresponded with Hannah More, and such kindred spirits. It exalted her as an extraordinary honour and privilege when the books of a mere female writer like herself were admitted on the list of the S.P.C.K., which has since found plenty of work for women’s pens. She edited The Family Magazine, forerunner of many such, “each number consisting of a sermon, generally abridged from the works of some learned divine of the Church of England, and of descriptions of foreign countries, in which care was taken to make the lower orders see the comforts and advantages belonging to this favoured land, and also to render them contented with its laws and government.” How many readers would be won now for a magazine conducted on such lines, even if spiced by the “Instructive Tales” of its editor? The good lady died in 1810, and was buried at Ealing, the parish church of Brentford, which, though the county town of Middlesex, ranked ecclesiastically as a mere dependent of its neighbour.

About Kew, in her time, there were spirits less loyal and orthodox. Across the river in her youth she may have heard the roars of the mob greeting Wilkes’ repeated hustings triumphs at[132] Brentford—a din that must have reached the royal ears, if George III. did not keep clear of Kew for the nonce. At one of those abortive elections, every road to the poll was blocked by a crowd that would allow no one to pass unless wearing the popular idol’s blue cockade. Wilkes and George might well be nicknamed the “Two Kings of Brentford.” And for ten years or so New Brentford, as the village was then called, had a firebrand parson who would not commend himself to Mrs. Trimmer. Her future home, indeed, was at Old Brentford, now being swallowed up in Ealing.

The Brentford political parson was John Horne, afterwards better known as Horne Tooke. Son of a London poulterer, whom he styled to his Eton school-fellows “a Turkey merchant,” Horne was not the best man to hold a living which his friends bought for him about the time of the King’s accession. He is said to have done his duty at least as conscientiously as most parsons of his day; and he seems to have been on the way to become a popular preacher, if he had not been distracted by other avocations. He had studied for the Bar, had suffered as usher in a school; and he practised medicine en amateur[133] among his parishioners, no doubt with “a lurch to quackery,” as is Dr. O. W. Holmes’ reproach against divines straying into his own field. He took pupils at Brentford, one of them the Elwes afterwards so notorious as a miser; and with more than one he travelled on the Continent, leaving behind him, let us trust, an orthodox curate. Then the cry of “Wilkes and liberty!” set him on commencing as politician and pamphleteer; and for years he revelled in the hot water of faction. He canvassed for Wilkes with such zeal that he is accused of saying “in a cause so just and holy he would dye his black coat red.” We hear once of all the constables in London being drafted to Brentford, where the turbulent elections did not go off without bloodshed as well as much beer-tapping. A man lost his life, as was alleged, at the hands of bullies in the pay of the Court party; and that bellicose parson exerted himself to bring the accused to justice, who were convicted but pardoned by the Ministry.

Before long the reverend champion of liberty quarrelled with Wilkes, against whom in his private character Horne pointed an acrimonious pen, to the chuckling delight of their political opponents. He started a newspaper for publishing[134] parliamentary debates, which led to a famous collision between the officers of the House and the City magistrates, and indirectly to the tacit acceptance of a liberty of reporting, hitherto practised by stealth. He next broke a lance against that unknown knight, Junius. It was a more daring adventure when he touched the Government’s shield by hotly espousing the cause of the American Colonists, and writing of the Lexington victims as “murdered” by the King’s troops, for which he had to stand his trial and be convicted of a libel.

By this time the parson had resigned his living, and thrown off the gown that hampered his robustious exertions as an agitator, but he remained a resident at Brentford till circumstances took him into Surrey. A Mr. Tooke of Purley had invoked his assistance for a dispute about common rights in that neighbourhood; and Horne proved such a doughty advocate in this case that close intimacy sprang up between the two men. The younger assumed Tooke’s name, and from his house dated the philological and grammatical treatise, Diversions of Purley, by which he is best known. In the end there seems to have been some cooling of their affection,[135] for Mr. Tooke left his supposed heir only a small legacy, along with the welcome opportunity for a lawsuit. But Horne Tooke’s real father had left him means to live comfortably at Wimbledon till 1812, long enough to take part with a new generation of Radicals, in which the names of Sir Francis Burdett and Major Cartwright came to the front. He succeeded in slipping into Parliament, strangely enough, as representative of a rotten borough, Old Sarum; and his “election” led to a Bill disqualifying the clergy as members, though a generation would pass before the lease of rotten boroughs was cancelled by such reform as Horne Tooke had loudly advocated at the cost of again standing a trial for high treason.

Another noisy reformer, if he be not better described as a pig-headed lover of the past, who was Tory and Radical by turns, had a glimpse of Kew, about or soon after the time that Horne Tooke left Brentford. In the farther corner of Surrey there was then living a sturdy little peasant who, with a smattering of the three R’s, went to work in the fine gardens of Waverley Abbey, then got another job of clipping and weeding at the Bishop’s Palace of Farnham. He[136] could hardly have entered his teens, though the date is not made clear in his story, when a gardener came that way who had just left the King’s Gardens at Kew, and gave such a glowing account of them that nothing would serve the boy but setting off to seek a place there. This was not a lad to let the grass grow under his feet, when he had a purpose in mind; and he at once left an episcopal service in hand for a royal one in the bush. It was William Cobbett, who now made his first acquaintance with the writings of an old sojourner in his own country nook, the sullen dependent of Sir William Temple at Moor Park, Jonathan Swift, whose downright diction this boy lived to copy through his long series of Political Registers.

The next morning, without saying a word to anyone, off I set; with no clothes except those upon my back, and with thirteen halfpence in my pocket. I found that I must go to Richmond, and I accordingly went on, from place to place, inquiring my way thither. A long day (it was in June) brought me to Richmond in the afternoon. Two pennyworth of bread and cheese and a pennyworth of small beer, which I had on the road, and one halfpenny that I had lost somehow or other left three pence in my pocket. With this for my whole fortune, I was trudging through Richmond, in my blue smock-frock and my red garters tied under my knees, when staring about me, my[137] eye fell upon a little book in a bookseller’s window, on the outside of which was written: “Tale of a Tub; price 3d.” The title was so odd that my curiosity was excited. I had the three pence, but, then I could have no supper. In I went, and got the little book, which I was so impatient to read, that I got over into a field at the upper corner of Kew Gardens, where there stood a haystack. On the shady side of this, I sat down to read. The book was so different from anything I had ever read before: it was something so new to my mind, that, though I could not at all understand some of it, it delighted me beyond description; and it produced what I have always considered a sort of birth of intellect. I read on till it was dark, without any thought about supper or bed. When I could see no longer, I put my little book in my pocket, and tumbled down by the side of the stack, where I slept till the birds in Kew Gardens awaked me in the morning; when off I started to Kew, reading my little book. The singularity of my dress, the simplicity of my manner, my confident and lively air, and, doubtless his own compassion besides, induced the gardener, who was a Scotsman, I remember, to give me victuals, find me lodging, and set me to work.

In his fragmentary reminiscence of that experience, Cobbett does not say how long he stayed at Kew; but we presently find him at home again, soon to set out on further escapades. He tells us how the boy princes, attracted by the oddity of his dress, stopped to laugh at him as he was sweeping the grass round the Pagoda. I have somewhere read a story that King George[138] himself took notice of the young rustic as carrying a book with him to work, and was so pleased by his talk as to desire that he should be kept on; but I do not remember any statement to this effect in Cobbett’s own writings. In later life, the doughty demagogue became something of a nursery gardener himself, carrying on near Kensington, by the Kew road, a seed-farm from which he was zealous to propagate a kind of acacia he introduced, and also, with less success, the cultivation of maize under the name of “Cobbett’s corn.” All through life he kept up his interest in gardening, as shown by more than one of the works whose style has been happily compared to a kitchen-garden’s relation with a flower-garden.


Another gardener rose to note, who about the same time was seeking jobs in Mortlake, Kingston, or any parish around Kew where he could find poor lodging and ill-paid work. His real name was William Hunt, but he changed this to Huntingdon, as would appear, by way of hiding himself from the consequence of some youthful ill-doing; and he afterwards justified the alias in characteristic fashion by claiming to have undergone “the new birth” under that[139] assumed name, to which—“as I cannot get at D.D. for want of cash, neither can I get at M.A. for the want of learning”—he added the odd degree S.S., meaning “Sinner Saved.” After undergoing the pangs of spiritual labour along with hard troubles of the flesh at Ewell and Sunbury, he began to preach among his humble neighbours, and kept up this ministry while earning a livelihood by unloading coals at Thames Ditton, so that he became notorious as the converted coal-heaver. He rose to be the Spurgeon of his day, with John Bunyan rather for model, as far as one can judge from the twenty volumes of his works, little known to the “new theology” of our generation, which hardly remembers him unless from a casual allusion by Macaulay. He was indeed of a more fanatical and fuliginous spirit than would nowadays recommend a popular preacher; and his picture in the National Portrait Gallery suggests a coarsely strong animal nature, subdued, as it might be, by religious enthusiasm. So great grew his following that “Providence Chapel” was built for him in London, and rebuilt in Gray’s Inn Lane when destroyed by fire. Though he boasted of being “Beloved of God, but abhorred[140] of men,” godliness proved to him no small gain. He is said to have had an income of £2000 a year in his latter days, when, having lost the helpmeet of those early struggles, he married Lady Saunderson, widow of a Lord Mayor, with whom he lived in a villa at Cricklewood. He died at Tunbridge Wells, 1813, and was buried at Jireh Chapel, in the outskirts of Lewes.

It would make too long a story were one to bring in all the celebrities and notorieties living at Richmond, which has books enough of its own to illustrate it, and a fame that would overshadow that of Kew. The latter place owes everything, unless its river prospects, to princely care; but Richmond is so richly endowed by Nature that it could not fail to be a favourite place of residence. Perhaps the best known of its inhabitants in the Georgian century was James Thomson, the poet of The Seasons, who ended his life at a cottage in Kew Foot Lane, its place afterwards taken by the Richmond Hospital. But there were lords, belles, and fashionable folk who also had homes here. At the time of the French Revolution, Richmond society got a new element in some of the immigrant noblesse lucky enough to be able to rent[141] houses in such a choice ville de plaisance, while others had to content themselves with mean lodgings in St. Pancras or Soho.

It is difficult, indeed, to draw the line between these neighbour villages that have now grown into each other. The Old Deer Park of Richmond ran into the parish of Kew. They had a common excitement in 1795, making a more than local sensation, when one John Little, said to have been a favourite attendant of George III. in his walks through the Gardens, came to a bad end. He is described as keeper or porter of the Observatory, who passed for being a quiet, worthy, and even religious man till he committed a most brutal murder under circumstances that suggest insanity. He had borrowed money from a friend, an old man named MacEvoy, living in the lane between Kew and Richmond; and when this creditor pressed for payment, Little wiped out the debt by climbing into his house at night, beating him to death with a large stone, and killing his old housekeeper in the same way. Their cries roused the neighbours, who burst in too late; but instead of making off, the murderer had hid himself in a chimney of the house, and was there found by a Richmond constable.[142] He was convicted and hanged on Kennington Common, along with the notorious highwayman, Jerry Abershaw, and with a woman named Sarah King, when a newspaper of the day could remark on the curious coincidence that this was also the name of Little’s victim, the housekeeper.

Notices of Kew naturally become rarer after the poor old King had been shut up at Windsor. In 1813, Sir Richard Phillips made his Morning’s walk from London to Kew, where he did not admire George III.’s unfinished “Bastile,” then cumbering the ground. He is not the only writer of the period to mention a singular exhibition, not quite obliterated a dozen years later, a fresco on a scale unsurpassed by Raphael or Michael Angelo. “As I quitted the lane, I beheld, on my left, the long boundary-wall of Kew Gardens; on which a disabled sailor has drawn in chalk the effigies of the whole British navy, and over each representation appears the name of the vessel, and the number of her guns. He has in this way depicted about 800 vessels, each five or six feet long, and extending, with intervening distances, above a mile and a half. As the labour of one man, the whole is an extraordinary[143] performance; and I was told the decrepit draughtsman derives a competency from passing travellers.”

A sight that lasted longer was the City State Barge, the Maria Wood, rotting at Kew Bridge almost to our own day, till it had to be broken up; but well on in the nineteenth century it still made a scene of junketings, and earlier it had cruised with aldermanic guests as far as Richmond and Twickenham, not to speak of that famous voyage to Oxford described in the Middlesex volume of this series. Another lion of Kew in the early part of the last century was a pretentious modern structure, said to have been built from the materials of George III.’s unfinished palace, but as Sir R. Phillips notes them both on his walk this statement seems doubtful. It took the name of the Priory, that has been spread over a district of the present suburb.

The Priory was built by a Catholic parishioner. Romanists and Dissenters would have every chance of making way at Kew, when its living, still conjoined with Petersham, was held for ten years, from 1818, by Charles Caleb Colton, a parson who might well speak of himself as only[144] a “finger-post” on the road to heaven. This eccentric divine was more concerned about angling in the Thames than to be a fisher of men. He did not live at either of his cures, but in shabby lodgings in Soho, going down to Kew only for necessary services, and spending the week-days after the manner of a Bohemian author, perhaps not unknown to Thackeray. At one time he carried on business, sub rosâ, as a wine-merchant, in cellars underneath a Methodist chapel, a possible hint for Mr. Sherrick’s dealings at Lady Whittlesea’s; but Colton had none of the Rev. Charles Honeyman’s suave humbug, while in some respects he may have sat as model for the coarser reprobate who blackmailed Philip Firmin’s father. His most unclerical pursuit was gambling, through which he got into some difficulty that packed him off to America in haste. He returned to put in an appearance at his living, which, however, seems now to have lapsed out of his incumbency. He next went to Paris, plunged head over heels into gaming, and blew out his brains in 1832. Yet this was the author of that once popular book Lacon, that among other edifying and sententious sentiments denounces the desperate gamester as doubly[145] ruined: “He adds his soul to every other loss; and by the act of suicide renounces earth to forfeit heaven.” The cure of souls he had filled so unworthily passed into the hands of the Rev. R. B. Byam, who held it for forty years, in favour with all classes and especially with his chief parishioners, the royal dukes who still from time to time showed themselves in Kew Church.

When Kew had been deserted by kings and courtiers, its gardens being turned into a public institution, the keepers of them grew to be important personages, of whom more has been said in the last chapter. For a time names of note are less often met with in this neighbourhood. One long link with the past was the life of Mrs. Gwyn, who died here in 1840, the year of Madame d’Arblay’s death, in whose Diary this lady’s name appears. She was the widow of Colonel Gwyn, one of the royal equerries in that time of trouble which Fanny Burney passed through half a century before. She had been the beautiful Mary Horneck, “the Jessamy Bride” whom Goldsmith loved in vain; and there may be those still alive at Kew that heard her memories of Johnson, Burke, and Reynolds,[146] of the first night of She Stoops to Conquer, and the first fame of the Vicar of Wakefield.

About the same time as Mrs. Gwyn, died Francis Bauer, a half-century resident at Kew, brought there by Sir Joseph Banks to exercise his remarkable skill as a natural history draughtsman. At the end of the eighteenth century he had brought out a volume of delineations of the exotic plants in the Gardens; and many of his plates lie still unpublished at South Kensington. It is said that in 1827 he laid before the Royal Society a paper by J. N. de Niepce, another foreigner living at Kew, who sought in vain to draw attention to some such process as was afterwards developed by Daguerre, so that Kew may claim to be a cradle of photography. While we are on the head of art, Hofland the painter should be mentioned as having been brought up at Kew; also his wife, the once popular novelist Barbara Hofland, who wrote a book about the Richmond neighbourhood, sumptuously illustrated in the style of its day (1832), with much the same aim as the present volume, but containing a larger proportion of fine words to a smaller stock of matter.


We now approach our own time, in which[147] Kew seems more favoured by authors than by artists. An inhabitant still remembered is Sir Arthur Helps, Clerk of the Privy Council, and recorder of those “Friends in Council” who were so familiar to readers of the last generation; nor does the mild wisdom of “Milverton,” “Ellesmere” and the rest, deserve to seem out of date. Perhaps his most enduring work will be the narratives in which he told the dark story of Spanish American conquest, with its dubious heroes. He acted as editor for Queen Victoria’s first confidences in print; and she granted him a residence at Kew Cottage, near the chief gates. To a member of his family whom I count among my friends, I am indebted for threads of information woven into these pages.

I can speak from acquaintance of another Kew resident, Richard Proctor, the well-known writer and lecturer on astronomy, editor of Knowledge and a high authority upon whist, to which his devotion was so sincere that he never would play for money. Yet he won a prize at the card-table, for, as he remarks in one of his disquisitions on the relation of skill and chance, “the lady who was my partner in this game is now my partner for life.” He was[148] destined to end his busy life lamentably, far from Kew, when, having in latter days married an American lady, he transplanted his household gods across the Atlantic. In passing through New York from the South, he had an attack of fever, mistaken, it seems, for the terrible “Yellow Jack” that from time to time scares Uncle Sam, so poor Proctor was turned out of his hotel, and packed off to die in a hospital.

One could tell of other noted authors living at or about Kew, not always in such enviable quarters as that “cottage of gentility” at which Queen Victoria visited Sir Arthur Helps, but perhaps the general reader, who, even in these Radical days, likes to hear about great folk, would take more interest in an aftermath of princely memories.

Our late Queen came to Kew only as a visitor. The widowed Duchess of Kent had quarters given her at Kensington Palace, where she devoted herself to educating her daughter for the crown that would be her almost certain inheritance; and the Princess was carried about on temporary sojourns in different parts of the kingdom, to the marked displeasure of William IV., who did not like to be reminded how he was only[149] a caretaker of the throne. But more than one of the royal family still kept residences at Kew, which, along with her interest in the Gardens, made Queen Victoria no stranger here.

William IV. did not live at Kew after his boyhood, though he showed his favour for the place by enlarging the church. Between his naval service and his accession, he had homes not far off, first at Richmond, then at Bushey Park, in the house turned into a National Physical Laboratory by almost the last public act of Queen Victoria. During the scare of the French invasion, we find the Sailor Prince enrolling himself as a private in the Teddington Volunteers, perhaps a mere honorary enlistment, as elsewhere he is spoken of as commanding a Volunteer force styled the Spelthorne Legion, Spelthorne being the south-western Hundred of Middlesex. Loyal Kew did not fail to have its own company, with the chief gardener as lieutenant, and John Haverfield as Chairman of the Committee appointed at a general meeting of the inhabitants, August 3, 1803. The strength of the company was sixty men, with two drummers, two fifers, a fugleman and an armourer; and there appears to have been no lack of recruits, one of the rules[150] providing that vacancies should be filled up “from those who have offered their services, according to their character and permanent continuance in the Parish.” Discipline was maintained by fines, as in the case of “Every person appearing intoxicated at drill or exercise shall immediately quit the ranks, and be fined one shilling.” This made part of what is spoken of as the King’s Own Regiment, and doubtless it did not want for royal countenance.

When Victoria came to the throne, it is understood that some bigoted Tories inclined towards a plot for raising the cry of “No Popery!” as excuse for giving the Crown to Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, who, without question, succeeded to Hanover. This bigoted and bitter-tongued Prince was the most unpopular of the whole family, so that, on William’s death, the Duke of Wellington advised him to clear out of England as fast as possible, “and take care you don’t get pelted.” He offended his mother by marrying a divorced princess, on whom the moral Queen looked coldly; the scandal-loving Charles Greville reports that one of Her Majesty’s latest seizures was brought on by her wrath when she heard how the Duchesses of[151] Cumberland and Cambridge had embraced each other in Kew Gardens. Ernest was by no means a fool, and seems to have had a good deal of character and courage, but also a perfect itch for rubbing people’s sore points. In his German kingdom he ruled with a high hand, getting his own way more easily than in England, and playing the bully not only with those who opposed him, but with his subservient courtiers, as appears in the reminiscences of his chaplain, Mr. Wilkinson.

The hatred for him in London had come out at the time of a mysterious tragedy enacted (1810) in his apartments at St. James’s, when the Duke was found bleeding from several sword cuts, and in an adjoining room, locked inside, his Piedmontese valet, Sellis, lay dead with his throat cut. The coroner’s jury gave a verdict that Sellis had committed suicide after trying to assassinate his master; but many were inclined to believe that the murder had been “the other way on”; and an unfortunate printer went to prison for publishing such suspicions. A generation later, heads were again shaken over a strange robbery of the registers from Kew Church: men whispered the name of one illustrious parishioner[152] who might have an interest in hiding some record of his youth. Nothing seemed too bad to be believed of this Prince, whose ambition to reign over us, if attained, would probably have turned the kingdom into a republic.


The Duke of Cumberland had a house at Kew, which stood at the north-west corner of the Green, and became adapted as the present Herbarium and Library, the new block built after his death in 1851. Here he lived occasionally even while King of Hanover; and here was born his son Prince George, whose birthday was long kept on the Green, as an old inhabitant tells us: “We used to have the climbing-pole, the jumping in sacks, the grinning through horse-collars, the running for shifts, and the pig with a soaped tail, to the infinite delight of the laughter-loving section of the parish.” This British-born Prince was the blind King of Hanover, who, so sadly inheriting one of his grandfather’s infirmities, lived to be dethroned by the Prussian armies, and to retire to a paradise exile among the Austrian lakes, its lovely scenery lost on him, while, like his grandfather, he found comfort in music. I can recall a touching glimpse of him in his latter days as he came out of a London[153] hotel leaning on the arm of an equerry or some such attendant, whose duty, one supposes, would be to nudge his master when any salutations had to be done. A small crowd of butchers’ and bakers’ boys and the like had gathered to stare at the equipage, and the blind King bowed graciously right and left to an unappreciative public, that simply stared at him without the least sign of respect.

The one branch of the royal family that kept up closer connection with Kew, till quite lately, was the Cambridges. The good-natured and popular Prince Adolphus had his town residence at Cambridge House, Piccadilly, afterwards occupied by Lord Palmerston, now the Naval and Military Club, known to cabmen as the “In and Out,” from the drive behind which it stands back from the street. The Duke of Cambridge held also Cambridge Cottage, marked by its portico, on the west side of the Green; and it was in the church here that he gave amusement and scandal by his habit of talking aloud to himself, after a trick of his father’s. When the parson read out “Let us pray,” the Duke would respond, “With all my heart,” but when the prayer for rain came on, he audibly remarked[154] “No use till the wind changes!” Then on the story of Zacchæus being read, “Behold, the half of my goods I give to the poor,” his Royal Highness’s outspoken comment was “No, no! that’s too much for any man—no objection to a tenth!” The Rev. Mr. Wilkinson, in the Reminiscences above-mentioned, asserts that one nervous curate was driven out of the parish by princely interruptions to the service, not to speak of criticisms on the sermon. “A damned good sermon!” was the remark Sir William Gregory heard him make, coming out of a London chapel where the preacher had eloquently held forth against swearing. The Duke was buried in Kew Church, while his brother of Sussex chose to “lie among the people” at Kensal Green, where indeed he lies among such mere “people” as Thackeray, Leigh Hunt, Tom Hood, Sydney Smith, Isambard Brunel, George Cruikshank, John Leech, and a whole academy of R.A.’s. In Kensal Green Cemetery also was buried the last Duke of Cambridge, beside his wife Mrs. Fitz-George, who seems to have won love as well as respect in her anomalous position.

This Duke, the Commander-in-Chief of our day, was born and partly brought up in Hanover,[155] of which his father had been Regent. He had there two English nurses, Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford, names that gave George IV. the cue for a jocular remark, “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” It was after King William’s death, when Ernest succeeded to Hanover, that the Cambridge family came back to live at Kew, of which their eldest son is found remarking in Olendorffian style, “The houses we occupy are very bad, but the place itself is very cheerful.” It is not recorded of him that he interfered with the Church service, though his everyday language was criticised as too much borrowed from its comminatory forms. In 1866, his sister, the Princess Mary of Cambridge, was married at Kew Church to the Duke of Teck, to whom was given the White Lodge in Richmond Park, whence came a bride for our present Prince of Wales.

The last quasi-royal function at Kew was the marriage in 1899 of the Princess Marie, grandchild of the Dowager Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who, as daughter of the former Duke of Cambridge, is the sole surviving grand-daughter of George III. At the parish church, in presence of the Prince of Wales and[156] several other members of the royal family, the young Princess was married to Count Jametal, by a bevy of clergymen, among whom the Rev. F. F. Reavely, Rector of Lexham, took a chief part at the Grand Duchess’ special request. The wedding breakfast was given at Cambridge Cottage, which, till the death of the late Duke, remained a link between Kew and royalty. It is understood to have been since offered to various members of the royal family, who declined it as involving too much expense in repairs and upkeep; and it now seems likely to be in some way turned to public use, like the rest of King George’s property here.



Kew has grown out to run into Richmond by blocks of commonplace suburban houses, some of which boast to stand on a dozen feet of gravel. The quaint Georgian mansions have mostly sunk in relative importance; and the homely cottages that once neighboured them have gone, or are like to go, though some of them still do a trade in refreshments, notably in sixpenny and ninepenny teas served to holiday parties. One side of the Green, turning from the Bridge to the main gate, is a row of houses and gardens of entertainment, at the doors of which, on a Sunday afternoon, clamorous touts strive to draw in the coming and going streams of sightseers, thus admitted to dwellings where celebrities of the past may once have been at home. This is a sign how as Kew waned in[158] aristocratic favour, it waxed as a scene of popular resort, through the attractions of its oasis in Greater London’s desert of brick and mortar.


From all parts of London it is easy to get to Kew, by railways from north and south to either side of the river, by tramways to the Brentford end of the Bridge, by omnibuses, of which specimens may soon be worth preserving in museums along with fossil trees and Ichthyosaurus skeletons; and by steamboats plying in summer time up the devious reaches of the river. The Gardens are open at all reasonable hours of daylight, and their hot-houses after midday. It is on Sunday and holiday afternoons, naturally, that His Majesty’s subjects take most advantage of their privileges, and, of course, fine weather will help to waft abroad the poet’s invitation to “Come down to Kew in lilac-time”—

And you shall wander hand in hand with love in summer’s wonderland.
The nightingale is rather rare and yet they say you’ll hear him there,
At Kew, at Kew in lilac-time (and oh, so near to London!)
The linnet and the throstle, too, and after dark the long halloo,
And golden-eyed tu-whit, tu-whoo of owls that ogle London.
For Noah hardly knew a bird of any kind that isn’t heard
At Kew, at Kew in lilac-time (and oh, so near to London!)
And when the rose begins to pout and all the chestnut spires are out
You’ll hear the rest without a doubt, all chorusing for London.

This minstrel, as is the way with his order, has an eye upon one sweetest season and upon one frequent class of visitors, who, when they get to Kew, might almost as well, it seems, be anywhere else. Noah, whose ornithological experience should have been larger than Mr. Noyes contemplates, was familiar with a phenomenon often seen at Kew, of visitors going in couples, all eyes for one another, with no more regard to their leafy and flowery surroundings than may suffice to give a vague sense of treading primrose paths. Such pairs are observed to seek out retired nooks, where perhaps they light on a wonderland hidden from more curious survey. I can tell of a blind man every day taking a walk in those spacious gardens. One can see spectacled gentlemen peering into the hothouses and museums, who may be suspected of[160] a studious intent. But by far the majority of holiday visitors come clearly in a true holiday spirit, roaming here and there like butterflies from clump to clump of bloom or greenery, to carry away a general impression of something bearing the same relation to their own familiar back gardens as Windsor Castle or Chatsworth to a semi-detached suburban villa.

The visitors make as miscellaneous a collection as the plants. Exotic promenaders will be common on Sundays, when our foreign guests are apt to complain of a want of public amusements. All classes are represented, from disguised millionaires perhaps seeking a hint for their own newly laid out grounds, to servant girls fondly persuaded that the lilies of the field can show nothing to match the glories of their holiday array. Family parties are much in evidence. There is always a large proportion of youngsters, whose parents and guardians may be tempted to improve the occasion with useful information, more or less correct. Here would be a chance for Mr. Barlow to open the minds of Masters Sandford and Merton, or for the tutor of Evenings at Home to lecture his inquisitive pupils. But the reader need not be[161] afraid of me as likely to abuse an opportunity of being dull and dry, if I were qualified to play the botanic pedagogue. I shall not even attempt to be a guide to the Gardens, which have their own official hand-books sold at the entrance; I only invite the visitor to stroll about with me in a desultory manner, while together we make a few observations and reflections on this great national collection.

Kew Gardens have been boasted the finest and most complete botanical collection in the world, as they certainly are if a handicap be allowed for a climate suggesting the antipodes of Eden. Their chief rival is perhaps the Buitenzorg Gardens of Java, where the Dutch turn for horticulture has full play upon the glories of tropical vegetation brought as it were to a focus. A thousand feet above the sea, amid magnificent volcanic forest-clad scenery, Buitenzorg, Sans Souci, the Richmond of Batavia, basks under a sunny sky that yet is by no means parching, for Miss North was interrupted at her easel here by rain coming down regularly each afternoon in such sheets and torrents that five minutes would turn the roads into streams a foot deep. The gardeners need[162] be at little trouble or expense for watering this exuberant greenery, through which runs an avenue of foliage arched a hundred feet above the ground, each tree wreathed with a different creeper, “sending down sheets of greenery and lovely flowers.” Here, amid a court of “all the gorgeous water-lilies of the world,” the Victoria Regia flourishes in the open air, as at Kew only in its hothouse shelter. Here grows the Rafflesia, named after Sir Stamford Raffles—founder of our Zoological Gardens, as of Singapore—called the largest flower in the world, at Kew represented only by a wax model, which seems just as well, since this vegetable monster, measuring some yards across, soon becomes foully infested by insects, so as to putrefy with a disgusting smell. Here, too, a palm like a gigantic primrose is said to have the largest fruit and the largest leaves of any tree in the world, the former two, and the latter ten feet in diameter. For Javan curators, indeed, the trouble is to provide in cool-houses such shelter as artificially heated conservatories are under our scrimped sunshine; and a separate Garden, some thousands of feet higher up, makes an asylum for our familiar plants carefully cultivated as a[163] pigmy show of exotics in the East. Our most tenderly nursed enclosures might cut a poor figure in a climate that does its own gardening. With all the money spent at Kew, one can imagine what results might be produced, where, outside of the Gardens, Miss North could draw a picture far more highly coloured than anything fairly to be said for Kew Green, or for the Thames bank at Brentford.

The view from the bridge in the very High Street of Buitenzorg was the richest scene I ever saw. A rushing river running deep down between high banks, covered with a tangle of huge bamboos, palms, tree-ferns, bread-fruit, bananas, and papaw trees, matted together with creepers, every individual plant seeming finer and fresher than other specimens of the same sort, and the larger such plants were, the grander their curves. Then they had the most exquisite little basket-work dwellings hidden away amongst them, and in the distance was a bamboo bridge—a sort of magnified human spider’s web. Looking straight along the street from the bridge was another pretty view—little shops full of gaily coloured things, such as scarlet jamboa fruit, yellow bananas, pomelas, melons, pines, and hot peppers of the brightest reds and greens. Pretty birds in bamboo cages, people in every shade of purple, scarlet, pink, turquoise blue, emerald green, and lemon yellow; small copper-coloured children carrying all their garments on the tops of their heads, grass-cutters carrying inverted cones of green fastened to their bamboos and almost hiding them. Long avenues[164] of huge banyan trees bordered the principal drive to the palace, with large bird’s-nest ferns growing on their branches, each tree forming a small plantation of itself, with its hanging roots and offsets from the branches. Herds of spotted deer used to rest in the shade under these trees, and parties of the great crested ground pigeon, as big as turkeys, were always to be found there.


The Botanic Garden near Rio de Janeiro, also, has tropical features we can hardly match, such as its colonnade of palms, a living temple overtopping the suburban avenues in which tram lines have been planted by foreign capital. Then the Gardens of Peradenia in Ceylon gather such a bouquet of choice flora as an enraptured traveller compares to “the paradise of some Eastern tale, designed and inhabited by invisible genii.” Our Australian colonies, so well off for sun, if not for water, are undertaking to show the Old Country what can be done in this way by children freed from some of her disadvantages. Sydney, besides its rich Botanic Gardens, can afford to keep stretches of wild scenery preserved in all their unkempt luxuriance; and behind Melbourne Nature itself has a giant grove of gum-trees, rising from the undergrowth of ferns that with us would rank as tall trees. And, of course, in many other parts of the world, comparatively[165] little expense can bring together a collection of our rare and delicate blooms, there ranking as weeds.

We are better off for money and skill, that at Kew have done so much to acclimatise or safeguard the productions of more favoured climes. What may be called the heart of the Gardens, on the side towards the Richmond road, is the Great Palm House, hardly great enough, as from time to time some of its pushing guests have to be turned out or snuffed down for fear of their prising off the roof. This huge hothouse enshrines a medley collection of tropical forms, grand and graceful, brought together from Africa, Asia, America and Polynesia, getting their fill of heat and moisture, if not of sunshine. One guide-book says that almost every variety of palms is represented in the exotic jumble, which is rather too much to say, as their species are counted by hundreds, about a hundred in the woods of the Amazon alone. The most striking trees here, looking ill at ease in the confinement of their tubs, are specimens of the pandanus or screw-pine, with its sword-like leaves and its stilt-like roots, propping the top in the air “with its trunk hid for repairs, as[166] it were, among an enclosure of scaffolding.” Young and eupeptic visitors will inquire for the coco-nut, whose fruit reaches them only in a dry, curdled, shrunken state, poorly representing its fibrous green globes filled with soft butter and refreshing milk. The double coco-nut of the Seychelles to be seen here is only a distant relation, whose nuts, like a pair of giant’s boxing-gloves joined together, grow “full of white jelly, enough to fill the largest soup-tureen.” It was one of General Gordon’s crotchets to regard this as the forbidden fruit of Eden; but at Kew, Eve could surely have found apples more tempting of aspect—for example, the Japanese date-plum in the Succulent House. One must not, however, attempt a catalogue of all the vegetable strangers coaxed and coddled to grow in an asylum, which might have taken a larger scale had a proposal been carried out to transfer the Crystal Palace to Kew rather than to Norwood.

Near the Palm House stands the Tropical Lily House, where now the Victoria Regia should open in July its huge white flowers tinged with royal red. This queen of water-lilies, that first flowered in Britain at Chatsworth, has to[167] content itself here with a tank, as an exiled sovereign may have to come down to hotel lodgings; but in its native Guiana, it blocks up canals and spangles lake swamps opening in the flowery woods. The leaves are often as broad as a man’s height, with upturned rims, so that Indian women can cradle their children upon them safely while the mother does her washing in the river fringed with such weeds of truly “glorious feature.” In the same conservatory, among other water-plants, are the papyrus reeds among which Moses was set floating, in our day crowded out of fertile Egypt, but they are found growing lustily so near as Sicily; while their old economic importance, that naturalised the name in our language, has dwindled now that we can turn wood-pulp into cheap paper.

I lately found the Victoria Regia enthroned in this, its original nursery; but a guide-book locates it in what, I understand, was its quarters for a time, the group of hot-houses numbered from seven to thirteen, which stand not far from the Cumberland Gate entrance. They have a show of other aquatic plants, and freaks of Nature like the pitcher-plants and living fly-traps, able to feed themselves on insects lured to their[168] intoxicating cups that act upon the drugged victim like the digestive organs of an animal. Here are billeted the delicate orchids, living on moist warm air, which in our day have been brought to flower in succession all through the year, even by electric light under the smoky glass of Birmingham, sought out for our hothouses so diligently that in their tropical wilds some of the richest sorts begin to grow rare, while of a thousand specimens gained perhaps at the cost of felling as many trunks, but a few may survive the trying journey, at the end of which is worth more than its weight in gold what ran wild as a parasite weed in the tree-tops of the Magdalena or the Orinoco.

This group of hot-houses cools off into a conservatory of South African plants, containing potted heaths such as bloom over vast stretches of Karroo, along with specimens of the curious Japanese art of dwarfing trees. For a contrast to these nurseries of tender exotics, one might turn to the Rock Garden beside them, towards the Cumberland Gate, where Alpine and other hardy growths thrive in a hollow set with rockery supplied by the destruction of one or more of those fanciful structures of the Georgian age[169] that still dot the grounds here and there—Temple of Æolus, Temple of the Sun, and so forth. Beyond the Rock Garden lies the Herbaceous Ground’s gathering of homely plants; and at its entrance, overshadowed by Museum II., a little Alpine House accommodates Nature’s hardy dwarfs, needing no such costly shelter as her tropical Brobdignagians.

But we have not yet done with the hothouses. Just beyond the egress of the South African annexe, another group begins with the Succulent House, holding a store of fleshy, scaly, spiky and prickly forms of the cactus and aloe tribes, having so many odd uses, as the “vegetable cows” milked three times a day in Mexico, that their juice may be fermented into the national thin tipple pulque, tasting like buttermilk with a dash of sulphur, while the root of another aloe yields mezcal as a stronger drink. One American cactus is not so carefully cultivated as it once was to rear the cochineal insect that dyed “England’s cruel red,” now procured more cheaply from aniline dyes first made under the group of tall chimneys below Harrow Hill. In South Africa aloes grow almost as tall as chimney stacks, so it would take[170] the British Museum dome to house them. This indeed is not the same plant as the American aloe, better distinguished as the agave, whose flowering stem may rise to the height of half a dozen men, so here we must be content with miniature specimens to fit the Succulent House. Beside this collection stands a greenhouse glowing with bloom inside panes dimmed by frosty fog; then beyond open smaller nurseries of tropical and filmy ferns. Outside, here, is supported a huge wistaria, once wreathing the walls of a conservatory now removed.

Last comes, what may be visited first, as its Grecian front almost faces the main entrance, the Aroid House, describable as a chapel of ease to the Palm House, close packed with a smaller congregation of swollen greenery, sucking in the edifying moisture that congeals on the glassy walls, and blinds for a minute or two one’s spectacled eyes, suddenly brought from the atmosphere of our zone to that of the Equator.

From such artificial snuggeries it seems doubly dismal to turn out into the raw air of a truly British November, in which a few forlorn roses may still be struggling to hold up their faded heads, and dank evergreens wear hardly[171] a more cheerful aspect than the sere leaves, “last of their clan,” that flutter down to be swept off the glistening grass. And yet those representatives of another climate, so carefully gathered and preserved, give but a poor idea of the teeming wildernesses that know no change of season but from baking heat to swamping rain, their rank vegetation always glowing under the breath of a fierce spring, while decaying in everlasting autumn beneath the richest mantles, and if there be any winter it is the daily frost of paralysing heat. The tropics come more truly before us in descriptions such as one might quote from a score of eloquent travellers, for example this by an American writer, W. H. Hurlbut:—

The wastes of Northern Cuba are jungles of closely twining plants, gay with the myriad hues of strange, magnificent flowers, and overtopped by gigantic trees, whose trunks are not less gay with fantastic embroideries, and from whose Briarean arms hang countless veils and fringes of creeping plants, the names of which cause upon the ear the same indefinite impression of savage magnificence that is made by their blended, indistinguishable forms upon the eye. All things which to us of the temperate zones are creatures of boxes and bales, creations, we might perhaps as truly say, of the merchant and the grocer, meet us here at every turn, wild and bold in the woods; the fan-like cacao tree, the spreading vanilla, the[172] parasite tamarind, the gaunt and desolate guava. The cactus no longer struggles for existence in the feeble sunshine of a three-pair back window with a southern exposure, but, swollen to the size of a scrub oak, impedes your way with its dull, hideous, prickly leaves, and flaunts its great flowers in your face. You may cure your thirst by day with the sweet clear waters of the cocoa-nut. You may cool your heated eyes by night with such floods of golden moonlight as would have driven Shelley mad. The moon, which gives expression to the most tedious landscape and the most unmeaning face, and converts the delight of gazing upon beauty into a kind of frenzy, the moon makes all men Endymions in Cuba.


But if, amid hints and samples of such luxuriance, the well-clad visitor feels his spirit “falter in the mist” and be inclined to “languish for the purple seas” of the South, let him consider how with a certain relief he escapes from the damp, dripping, sticky heat of these glass-houses into our untempered breezes, a little exercise soon setting his blood in tune with a climate that from the cradle goads one to be always doing something, if only throwing stones, that here would be a most objectionable pastime for our versatile youth. It is the sons of a temperate zone who are stirred into building palm houses or setting out to hunt for treasures of the tropics, when tired of hunting in play[173] wild animals kept for the purpose at home. As further comfort, let a stay-at-home study the reports of travellers to note how soon they grow sick of tropical glare and glow, of the crude and garish tints of rank evergreenery, of the “chromo-lithograph midsummer” that wants tenderness, sweetness, variety, and contrast, of the endless monotonies of shade and the blinding dazzle of perpetual sunshine chequered by a “scorched darkness” that brings no rest—how they sigh for refreshing showers that come in their season as a devastating deluge, for weeks and months together turning into feverish mud the choking dust and the soil cracked as if gasping for breath, where masterful Nature, if at least she knows her own mind, is always in violent extremes. I was once in a desert oasis when it had the prodigious experience of a wet day, not in bursts of storm but in gently dropping rain, and I shall never forget the satisfaction with which the natives turned out to bask in weather so familiar to us as to be hardly worth grumbling at.

I, too, have peeped into those stifling Arcadias, and have known what it is to hail a “mango shower” or a sea breeze. But I quote for high[174] and wide authority a Ulysses indeed, Dr. A. R. Wallace, who after years spent in the richest regions on both sides of the world, can tell us that the luscious shows picked into a nosegay in our hot-houses ill counterfeit those natural jungles where blossoms are drowned in a flood of sombre green, and the brightest flowers, climbing upwards in the universal struggle for light, waste their full blown beauty on the parching sky, invisible to the wanderer, unless in an airship he could surmount the lofty roof of foliage beneath which he may have to push and hew his tunnelled way through obstruction of dense underwood. This explorer declares that he has wandered for days in tropical forests without coming on any bloom so gay as a hawthorn or a honeysuckle; and he has never seen in Brazil or Malaysia “such brilliant masses of colour as even England can show in her furze-clad commons, her heathery mountain-sides, her glades of wild hyacinth, her fields of poppies, her meadows of buttercups and daisies.”

Sir E. Im Thurn bears out Wallace’s view with some qualification: “At no time is the Guiana leafage as splendid as in an ordinary English wood either in the early spring or in[175] the glorious golden autumn time. But on the other hand, the tropical forest throughout the year is more variously coloured … due partly to the fact that without special season for the bursting or the fall of the leaves, throughout the year it has trees both putting out new leaves, white, or brilliantly tinted with green, pink, or red, and others from which drop leaves with red, yellow, and bronze colours burned deeply into them by the blazing sun; and partly to the fact that in it trees of innumerable kinds, each with foliage slightly distinct in colour, grow intermingled.… The whole amount of colour afforded by flowers is probably not very different in tropical and in temperate trees, but is differently distributed.” But, to be fair to the tropical woods, so often drowned in the exuberance of their own greenery, it should be remembered how river banks and other open edges may show bright with hanging clusters of bloom and radiant festoons climbing to the tree-tops, while the ground, parched and swamped by turns, will lack that carpet of sweet and humble flowers, springing among soft turf, that is the special charm of an English spring.

“What can they know of England who only[176] England know,” seems at present the favourite tag of imperially minded journalists. It might be more truly said that only they who know the world know how much England has to be thankful for in the climate we are so ready to abuse. Their eyes are opened to see how Nature in our island has all the loveliest tints on her palette, to paint ever-changing pictures that owe their chief charm to the supposed defect of uncertainty, even as your Didos and Cleopatras—varium et mutabile—would less surely enchant in the form of stereotyped models of the most admired virtues.


Then a drawback to tropical scenes on which travellers are emphatically in one tale, is the innumerable plagues bred in such hot air as we imitate at Kew—here filtered from its hostile engenderings—the maddening mosquitoes that swarm in equatorial forests as on Arctic tundras; the legions of ants, white, red, and black, that prey upon the traveller’s kit and torture his skin like a shirt of Nessus; harpy moths that have to be driven from one’s food; swarms of earwigs which some African adventurers have found the hatefulest enemy of their march. Kew breeds no serpent or vampire like those haunting natural[177] paradises where the blaze that scares away lions or leopards only attracts darting spiders and scurrying scorpions to a couch already made restless by buzzing and biting pests; where the ground hides flesh-burrowing ticks and fleas, and the air is thick with invisible stings, and the trees bear venomous caterpillars; where one durst not smell a flower for fear of inhaling some noxious parasite, and our loathsomest bugs would seem hardly worth noticing among bloated cockroaches and hideous centipedes; where countless flies lay seeds of death in man and beast, not to speak of clouds of locusts that sometimes darken the sky like a snow-storm, and if they could cross the Channel, might fall on this Thames-side garden to eat up its greenery in an hour.

And the noises of those sweltering thickets, which at night a new-comer in South America compares to some factory worked by whirling, whistling and hissing demons! Even the gloomy stillness of noon, broken by the fall of some big fruit thudding to the ground like a cannon-ball, or by some seed-capsule exploding with a report like a shot, even this heavy siesta of Nature is not altogether voiceless, for beneath it, as Humboldt[178] says, one can catch a faint stifled undertone, a buzz and hum of insects that crowd the earth and the lowest strata of air, a confused vibrating murmur, which from every bush, from the cracked bark of trees, from the soil burrowed by creeping things, proclaims life audibly manifest to him who listens. But it is the evening, our emblem of peace, the welcome twilight through which the ploughboy goes whistling home, that wakes tropical shades to an untuned concert of croaking, screaming, chattering, wailing, howling, and humming, when the darkness seems alive with invisible cracklings, patterings, scratchings, skippings and rustlings, silenced for the moment by the blood-curdling growl and crashing spring of some beast of prey, and the piercing death-screech of its victim echoing far where every foot of ground is scene for nightly tragedies. One need be no Macbeth to have one’s sleep murdered by alarms and excursions for which heated imagination acts as a megaphone. “The clamour of the jackals over a carcass suggests a band of hungry wolves. A mongoose having it out with a rat beneath the floor is like an animal Armageddon. Does your faithful dog growl in the verandah, you make sure a leopard[179] is about to pounce upon him. A restless horse seems to be trampling like a must elephant. And perhaps over all comes the roar of the tiger, nothing indeed to be afraid of, as he would go silent enough if attending to his bad business. Such are the torments of a sweltering Indian night, that give an Englishman cause to thank the goodness and the grace that made his birthplace in a land where a caterwauling puss or a scratching mouse would be the worst of nocturnal bugbears.”

We Britons, lulled to sleep by the tramp of the policeman and the watch-dog’s honest bark, have some reason for calling “sour grapes” to the products of those giant greenhouse regions, East and South, where Nature appears to exhaust herself in labyrinths of swelling beauty and grandeur. But if the tropical trees had tongues, they might tell us that we do not judge them fairly in this cramped setting, fettered beneath roofs of glass, condemned to unnatural silence and restraint; imprisoned along with strange companions; stinted from full meals of equatorial storm to the trickling of a rubber hose that can no longer clasp their trunks in creeping embraces; robbed of the sunshine that floods their native[180] air with fiery gold, and given in exchange the dull comfort of hot-water pipes; deserted by the radiant birds, the shining insects, and the glittering reptiles that should people their drooping branches, among which the stir of missing monkey-troops seems feebly aped by the murmurs and movements of workmen hidden in the galleries.

For another kind of more or less unfamiliar vegetation we must seek the Temperate House, further up the central walks towards the Pagoda. In this, boasting itself the largest winter garden in the world, are collected specimens of sun-loving plants, from the acacias of Australia to the cacti of Mexico. The most venerable growth here seems a shoot of that now crumbled dragon-tree at Orotava, which Humboldt renowned as the oldest tree in the world. The most imposing are the araucarias in the central aisles, one of them the famous Norfolk Island pine, that in its own home will reach a height of two hundred feet. Some of these Antipodean strangers can be won to grow in British soil; some would flourish under its sky, but for their rooted habit of being most active in our nipping winter. For to their native soil, the seasons, of course, come reversed[181] from ours, where colonial children must be puzzled by our poets’ view of January and of July, as we are by allusions seasonable at the other end of the world:—

Perspiring round our Christmas fare,
In vain we long for snow:
Midsummer day, we fain would sit
Around the Yule-tide’s glow.

The characteristic growth of Australia is the eucalyptus or gum-tree, in its many varieties, among which the blue gum is best known as widely transplanted to thrive in Europe and other parts of the globe. One species seems entitled to the distinction of being the tallest of trees, growing to a height of four hundred and fifty feet and more, so as perhaps to look down even upon the mammoth sequoia of California, which we have so impertinently renamed the Wellingtonia. The question of aerial precedence between these two, indeed, depending upon doubtful measurements, may be taken as not quite settled, and Uncle Sam is loth to admit anything of his as less than the greatest in the world; but he should know how Sir J. D. Hooker is quoted by Grant Duff as setting down his boastful mammoths for ugly trees,[182] which is what no one can say of John Bull’s oaks.

The isolated specimens of Australian vegetation cabined and cribbed at Kew, give no fair sample of the eucalyptus forests in which leagues upon leagues of bare straight stems, standing sullenly apart, will rise from a hundred to two hundred feet before throwing out their scraggy crown of dull and drooping foliage, that casts a thin unchanging shade upon the ground littered with peeling bark rather than with fallen leaves. In this monotonous scenery one might be grateful for our vernal woods and autumnal hedgerows; and still more so when lost in one of the “scrubs,” packed close with malicious dwarf trees, thorny bushes, spear-like grasses, and tangled heaths, that are the dry jungles of Australia’s inland plains.

Australia, besides her tree-like flowers, has trees rich in bright blooms: the “fire-tree” and the “flame-tree” that make a blaze of red and orange upon hill-sides miles away, the crooked “honeysuckle” with its yellow “bottle brushes,” the odd “grass-tree” bearing up a tuft of sharp leaves from which springs several feet of flowery stalk, the “miall-tree” with its streaming foliage[183] and scent of violets, and the other innumerable acacias, here known as “wattles,” that can light up even the gloom of the scrub with their gay blossoms. These growths are apt to run to flowers rather than to fruit, the native berries being sweeter to the eye than to the tooth; and, while the flowers lack perfume, it is the leaves that are often fragrant, sometimes loading the air with an aroma wafted leagues out to sea. Then there are fine timber-trees, magnificent cedars, the umbrageous blackwood, the funereal casuarina or she-oak, whose dark branches droop willow-like over the fitful streams; the jarrah and the karri belonging to the eucalyptus order, the latter voted its most noble form. New Zealand, too, has magnificent and beautiful trees—its kauri, king of conifers, its forests of tree-fern, its jungles of flowering shrubs, its glowing rata parasite, strangling the trunk that nursed it by sucking the sap into its own masses of crimson bloom, like a cuckoo of the vegetable world. But our first Antipodean colonists would exchange a wilderness of such glories for a patch of English turf; and their sons still love to surround themselves with the humble garden flowers and hardy blossoms of “home,” yielding[184] to no land in fresh and tender tints, however it may be surpassed in gorgeous and gigantic growths. Many of our familiar plants, indeed, have been introduced at the Antipodes with sometimes too much success. The branches of apple and pear trees will there break down under their teeming crop; the thistles rashly imported into Australia by some patriotic Scot have thriven to the rank of a nuisance, like the rabbits; the sturdy British gorse and sweet-brier outshoot their native modesty and the design of colonists who thought to make them serve as hedges; and our weeds and hedge plants take so kindly to New Zealand soil as to have overlaid the native flora in some districts, where the coarse indigenous grass soon gives place to succulent meadows spangled with daisies and primroses. Water-cress, transplanted to New Zealand, has grown as troublesome as the American weed in our canals, to the point of causing floods by damming up the streams upon which it takes a new exuberant life.

As measles or influenza fastens upon fresh blood like a plague, so do many of our downtrodden plants become bumptious and aggressive in the stimulating air of a new world, wherever[185] they find a not forbidding environment, and a fair chance to elbow a place for themselves in the struggle for existence. In a less degree, the same conquest is to be noted in America, the old-settled Eastern States having been largely colonised by imported growths, while the indigenous flora retreated with the Red Man to the inland woods and prairies. From the more southerly regions of America, we Europeans have got more than we give, in Indian corn, the tomato, the pineapple, and the hardy potato, that for our damp Western islands has come to be the staff of life as it was on the dry sunny heights of its native Bolivia, though in Britain, as in some parts of the Continent, it had at first to live down most pig-headed prejudices. Besides naturalising the productions of other climates, Kew has the less noted function of exporting our seeds to try their luck abroad, as, for instance, barrels of acorns hence sent to take prosperous root in South Africa.

For the timbers, huge, rich, rare, beautiful and useful, of these exotic trees, and for their products, we turn to the Museums and Economic Houses that are the most instructive part of this exhibition. Here Masters Sandford and Merton[186] might spend many days in enlarging their mental prospects. The cane, for instance, chiefly familiar to them on the seat of chairs, or perhaps by a use that renders sitting a property of uneasiness, they will learn from Mr. Barlow to belong to a great race of arborescent grasses, among which the young gentlemen may perhaps be most interested in the raw and manufactured products of the sugar-cane. Here their well-instructed tutor can point out to them how the bamboo, prince of this race, is beneficent to many peoples, supplying them with paper, ropes, hats, weapons, fans, baskets, umbrellas, tents, mats, boxes, also houses, bridges, masts, sails, ladders, fences, flutes, and other tools, weapons and utensils, amply illustrated in the cases of Museums II. and III.

Off the Rhododendron Walk there is a garden of feathery bamboos that can make shift to stand our open air. In the same quarter, a division labelled Betula is also calculated to throw a shade over the spirit of Master Merton, if not of the blameless Harry Sandford, this in the vernacular being a tree of knowledge too well known to British youngsters of past generations for its base use, frowned on by latter day[187] humanitarians, but a smiling jest to the poets from Shakespeare to Swinburne—

With all its blithe, lithe bounty of buds and sprays,
For hapless boys to wince at and grow red,
And feel a tingling memory prick their skins.

Now that “the rod becomes more mocked than used,” birch sprays are most familiar to us in the humble usefulness of a broom. Yet on the other side of the world there were nations that would have been hard put to it to do without this tree, used for many offices, but not for that above-mentioned, since your cruel Mohawk and thick-skinned Huron had a strangely sentimental abhorrence of chastising their impish youngsters, which, notes a Jesuit missionary, “will hinder our design to instruct their youth.” But manifold were other services of birch in the wigwam life of the backwoods—for walls, roof, furniture, clothes, torches, powders, poultices, and what not; bark was the Red Man’s cradle and his coffin, and the material for his masterpiece of skill, the canoe; it even at a pinch filled empty stomachs, that could hold out for days on the inner scrapings of bark, when moss, roots, and berries failed his improvident hardihood.

In other parts of the world, the coco-nut[188] tree is of still more general utility, since it not only “bears at once the cup and milk and fruit,” but supplies salad from the young shoots and toddy from the quickly fermented juice; bowls and lamps from its shells, and from its pulp, oil to fill them; cordage, mats, ornamental wreaths and plaited armour from its fibre; fans, baskets, thatch from its leaves; torches from the ribs, and countless other articles of daily use. The Malays, who train monkeys to run up the trees and bring down nuts for their master, have contrived an ingenious clock which Dr. Wallace saw used by sailors: in a bucket floats a scraped half-shell with a small hole bored in the bottom to let in a thread of water at a rate so exactly calculated that the shell sinks at the end of an hour. There are South Sea islands where brackish water makes the people wholly dependent on this tree for drink. Then modern trade has given coconuts a new value, dried in the form of copra and shipped to Marseilles and elsewhere, to have the oil pressed out for making soap and candles, not to mention the “best olive oil” of commerce, while the refuse goes as fattening food for cattle. That is the main thing we get from Polynesia and Micronesia in exchange for trousers, sewing-machines,[189] concertinas, and spelling-books. In Museums I. and II. our young friends may see what delicate and finely tinted cloth those islanders could beat out of bark before they learned to depend too much on our manufactures, being often more healthy and moral without the encumbering garments which the early missionaries considered essential to godliness.

For some islands of the South Seas, the pandanus, rather, fills the part of universal provider. The same thing might be said of other trees in their different regions; but perhaps enough has been said on this head, when one mentions the Brazilian wax-palm (Copernicia cerifera), which, though it makes no great show here, according to Mr. J. W. Wells, seems to be as much of a tree-of-all-work as any other in the world.

It resists intense and protracted droughts, and is always green and vigorous; it produces an equivalent to sarsaparilla; a nutritious vegetable like cabbage; wine; vinegar; a saccharine substance; a starch, resembling and equivalent to sago; other substances resemble, or by processes are made to substitute maizena, coffee, cork, wax, salt, alkali, and coco-nut milk; and from its various materials are manufactured wax-candles, soap, mats, hats, musical instruments, water-tubes, pumps, ropes, and cords, stakes for fences, timber for joists, rafters, and other[190] materials for building purposes, strong and light fibres which acquire a beautiful lustre; and in times of great drought it has supplied food for the starving inhabitants.

Specimens of those products will be found chiefly in Museum No. II., illustrating the economic uses of endogenous or monocotyledonous plants, hard words which Mr. Barlow might fancifully explain as denoting the gentler sex of vegetable Nature, its members, from palms to grasses, being inclined to softness, slenderness and grace rather than strength. But perhaps Sandford and Merton might, for once, do well not to listen to their much-informed preceptor, as he would probably be imbued with the Linnean system of classification, now set aside for a more natural one. The robust timber, better supplied by sturdily growing exogens, is exhibited in Museum III., the original “Orangery” built by Sir W. Chambers, that now makes a world-fetched show of huge sections of forest giants; polished slabs of ornamental wood; specimens of native ingenuity in workmanship, from bamboo toys to an appalling totem post carved upon a Queen Charlotte Islands cedar. Another feature here is views and plans of the Gardens at different periods, the localities often hardly to[191] be identified after successive alterations that have brought them to their present state.

The largest, and, on the whole, the most attractive of the Museums is No. I., whose red face looks across the Pond to the Palm House. Its staircase is adorned with a window that reminds one of the rebus designs with which mediæval builders recorded their names in a material pun, for this, removed from the Guildhall and presented to the Gardens by Alderman Cotton, displays on stained glass the stages in the growth and manufacture of cotton. The catalogue contains over five hundred entries and thousands of specimens, most of them capable of instructing even Macaulay’s schoolboy. A large part of the collection was transferred here from the India Museum at South Kensington; but all quarters of the world are represented. Here we may see in various states, tea, coffee, cocoa, wine, tobacco, hops, nutmegs, cloves and other more or less familiar friends, with some not so well known in Britain, such as maté, the Paraguayan tea, which begins to be introduced among us, while it goes out of fashion in Argentine cities, still drunk all day long on the campos, where also the half-savage Gaucho takes[192] too kindly to “square face” gin and to the gramophone that drowns the notes of his native guitar. Here we may indulge due disgust over outlandish intoxicants: the hemp-plants yielding “bang” and “hashish,” which are in the East what gin and absinthe are in the West; the poppy, that is a drug to us but elsewhere a ruinous dissipation; the coca leaves, the chewing of which gives a Bolivian Indian strength to go on for leagues without food, “but thereof comes in the end despondency and madness”; the kava root of the South Seas, which, first well chewed by strong-jawed young men or girls, then steeped in water, gives an infusion like soapsuds flavoured with Gregory’s powder, a luxury not much appreciated by white men, especially after seeing its preparation, and usually denied to women and youngsters, but ceremoniously presented in coco-nut shells to the grave and reverend seniors, whom a skinful of it affects with a peculiar drunkenness, in the legs rather than the head.

Many medicinal plants here will give us new ideas or old qualms: the liquorice root, yielding what is still in our country districts known as “Spanish juice”; the senna shrubs, that flourish[193] hardily in deserts to furnish black draughts once too much imported into British nurseries; the castor-oil plant, that bears such big clumps of flowers blooming under a tropical sun “too fairly for so foul effect”; the precious quinine, which by bold adventurers was stolen from Peruvian monopoly to thrive on Indian hills and elsewhere. Passing by such exhibits with a shudder, Masters Sandford and Merton will be glad to learn how many doctors nowadays do not much dissent from O. W. Holmes’s dictum that if all drugs, except quinine and a few other specifics, were at the bottom of the sea, it would be so much the better for human health.

Young monkeys, still strong in jaw and gastric juice, will pay more attention to the different kinds of nuts, too reckless dealings with which has often caused nauseous draughts to be “exhibited”; and they may be surprised to learn how the triangular Brazil nuts of our shops are not independent growths, but neatly packed in parcels of two dozen or so in a shell like a cannon ball, so hard and heavy as to crack a man’s skull on which it should fall. The youth of this generation will not be so much interested as an old fogey is in carob pods, believed to be[194] the locusts that fed St. John, and that still feed men and cattle in some parts of the world. The other day I had a shock of mild surprise in seeing dried locusts for sale in a back street shop-window, from which I had supposed them long vanished; but in my period of unpampered stomachs and scrimp pocket-money they had a great sale among schoolboys, as giving for a minimum of expenditure a maximum of sweet, stiff chewing, with this additional recommendation, that the seeds, scrunched under one’s mischievous heel, made a squeaking noise subversive of discipline—a trick, let us trust, never tried on Mr. Barlow. He will here find a cue to explain how some fruits that are to us mere luxuries more or less digestible, such as chestnuts and dates, make the staple food of certain regions, not only raw but dried, ground into flour and baked into bread; the stones of dates also being crushed as fodder for North African cattle. Then here we have the cassava, which in its native state is deadly poison, but can be prepared to feed wholesomely many tribes of Africans and South Americans, and to supply us with our toothsome tapioca. Here indeed are poisonous preparations enough to kill all Kew, including[195] the juice of that upas tree of whose deadly shade a cock-and-bull story took such deep root in our language that it still affords a fictitious trope for orators.

Mr. Barlow might find much to say on the many useful or curious plants here represented, notably the various trees and creepers whose juice, once oozing to waste in leafy wildernesses, now becomes more and more important through the increasing demand for india-rubber in our greedy manufactures. But his hearers might begin to yawn before he had got through one-tenth of over a hundred cases here laid out for inspection; so, as soon as the shower be over that has driven us into this instructive refuge, let us go forth into the open air, only pausing to look respectfully on the portraits of botanists and explorers, among which the tutor may point to Sir Joseph Banks, or Baron von Humboldt, while the pupils will want rather to identify Captain Cook; the general public may be most concerned to see Charles Darwin or Marianne North; and those who have had the patience to read through the foregoing chapters can pick out George III., Lord Bute, the Aitons, the Hookers, and other worthies[196] there touched upon in connection with Kew’s history.

It would take one, indeed, from opening to closing time to go through even the salient features of these spacious Gardens. What one turns to by choice will partly depend on taste, and partly on the season. Early in the year, as the official guide reminds us, we can look out for the snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils that “take the winds of March with beauty.” Then open the tulips about the Palm House, the bluebells in the remote corner marked by the Queen’s Cottage, the wild hyacinths beneath the budding beech-trees; and horse-chestnut flowers strew the way to the blooming rhododendron walks; and next comes the turn of the azaleas and roses, till the whole area is overspread by vari-coloured blooms, in autumn dying with a pale sunset of chrysanthemums.

There are some who seek out first the richest flower-beds; others who love the chequered shade of melodious groves, or the avenues of cedar, larch, and cypress at the less cleared end towards Richmond; others will ask for famous old trees like that horse-chestnut whose gouty limbs are railed in near the river bank, a little[197] below the Syon Vista opening across the ferry from the Palm House, beside the artificial lake that might be mistaken for a river. Open-eyed youngsters hang by the pond with its colony of wild-fowl, on the other side of the Palm House. Family parties stroll through the chambers of the “Palace,” empty but for a sprinkling of pictures and relics of royalty. Certain visitors, on hot days, one observes to spend much time in and about the refreshment pavilion, towards which Tommy Merton’s eyes will be observed to wander, while Harry Sandford listens attentively to a lecture on the adjacent cedars, whose seeds may have been brought home by Bute’s adventurous mother-in-law, and their branches to-day wear no air of “sighing for Lebanon.” The official restaurant, not quite so “popular” as those outside, stands beyond the Palm House, in an open glade leading up to where the Pagoda’s towering intrusiveness marks the way to the Lion Gate at the further corner on the Richmond road. Perhaps fewest visitors show the preference of Richard Jefferies, so true a lover of Nature, who casts his vote for what might strike some of us as the most commonplace show of the Gardens, by the[198] Cumberland Gate—that old story of “Eyes and no Eyes!”

Within this enclosure, called the Herbaceous Ground, heedlessly passed and perhaps never heard of by the thousands who go to see the Palm Houses, lies to me the real and truest interest of Kew. For here is a living dictionary of English wild-flowers. The meadow and the cornfield, the river, the mountain, and the woodland, the seashore, the very waste place by the roadside, each has sent its peculiar representatives, and glancing for the moment, at large, over the beds, noting their number and extent, remembering that the specimens are not in the mass but individual, the first conclusion is that our own country is the true Flowery Land. But the immediate value of this wonderful garden is in the clue it gives to the most ignorant, enabling any one, no matter how unlearned, to identify the flower that delighted him or her, it may be, years ago in far-away field or copse. Walking up and down the green paths between the beds, you are sure to come upon it presently, with its scientific name duly attached and its natural order labelled at the end of the patch. Had I only known of this place in former days, how gladly I would have walked the hundred miles hither. For the old folk, the aged men and countrywomen, have for the most part forgotten, if they ever knew, the plants and herbs in the hedges they had frequented from their childhood. Some few, of course, they can tell you; but the majority are as unknown to them, except by sight, as the ferns of New Zealand or the heaths of the Cape. Since books came about, since the railways and science destroyed superstition, the lore of herbs has in great measure decayed and been lost. The names of many of the commonest herbs are quite forgotten—they are weeds, and nothing more. But here these things are preserved; in London, the centre of civilisation and science, is a garden which restores the ancient knowledge of the monks and the witches of the villages.



But whatever else at Kew be done or left undone, the stranger must be pointed to what is almost the latest and not least attractive of its spectacles—the North Gallery, that stands on the Richmond road side, beyond the mound on which a Douglas pine rears what boasts itself the tallest flagstaff in the world, and near where the walk is crossed by an imitation ruined arch, overgrown with greenery, which in Sir W. Chambers’s time seemed an ornamental manner of carrying a roadway out of the grounds. The pretty building itself will at once invite attention; then hours may be spent in examining its contents, the gift and handiwork of Miss Marianne North, who well deserved to stand godmother to several plants brought to knowledge by her researches.

This lover of flowers, a descendant from the Roger North remembered by his biography of three notable brothers, was born at Hastings, for which her father sat in Parliament. Her desire to see and to paint the tropics was[200] awakened at Kew when Sir William Hooker gave her a glorious bunch from the first Amherstia nobilis to bloom in England. With her father she travelled much in Europe, and as far as Syria and Egypt. Thrown on her own guidance after his death and the marriage of her sister to J. A. Symonds, she launched out for America and the West Indies; then took a tour round the world and made some stay in India, bringing back from time to time several hundred paintings to be exhibited at South Kensington. When she found her work appreciated, Miss North resolved on presenting the whole collection to the public, and at her own expense set about the building of a gallery for it at Kew. Before this was opened in 1882, she had been to Australasia for fresh subjects; then again set off to enrich its contents from South Africa and the islands of the Indian Ocean. The gallery had soon to be enlarged, while its indefatigable founder made her last expedition, this time to Chili. The story of those peregrinations is told in her Recollections of a Happy Life, that pass over lightly the many hardships she braved in procuring so much pleasure for her stay-at-home countryfolk. But perilous climates and trying[201] exertions had told on her nerves; and after a year spent in finally arranging the Kew collection, she was fain to seek the repose of a Gloucestershire garden, which many friends contributed to adorn with such beauties as she had followed far and near. Here, a few years later, she died in 1890.


The North collection is unique, not only in its scope and interest, but in its being the work of one woman, whom Queen Victoria regretted that she could distinguish by no mark of public honour: in the next reign she might have been rewarded by the new Order of Merit bestowed on Florence Nightingale. Her legacy to the nation, catalogued in more than a hundred pages, pictures some thousand species of flowers and plants, from nearly all parts of the world, for the most part executed on the spot within little over a dozen years. This is the sight no visitor should miss; and from whatever clime he comes, he is almost sure to find some souvenir of it blooming here under the dullest sky and the chilliest influences, against which Kew Gardens strive to carry out their aim of epitomising the earth’s vegetable life.



[1] The Dictionary of National Biography’s article on Francis Willis, written, I understand, by a descendant of his, hardly does justice to this one of his sons. The writer mentions John and Robert as concerned with treating the King at different times, but does not bring forward Thomas, who, so far as I can make out, was closely in charge during the attack of 1801.

[2] Letting in Elizabethan English, of course, bore the opposite meaning to ours, as in “let and hinder.”




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