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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A London Promenade in the Last Century

By Samuel Curwen (1715–1802)

[Born in Salem, Mass., 1715. Died there, 1802. Journal and Letters of the late Samuel Curwen, American Refugee in England, from 1775 to 1784. Edited by G. A. Ward. 1842.]

AFTER tea, called on Mr. Dalglish, whom with his friend, I accompanied in a coach to “Carlisle House,” at a Sunday evening entertainment, called the Promenade, instituted in lieu of public amusement; and to compensate for twelve tedious hours’ interval laid under an interdict by the laws of the country, yet unrepealed formally by the legislature, though effectually so in the houses of the great and wealthy, from whence religion and charity are but too generally banished. The employment of the company is simply walking through the rooms; being allowed tea, coffee, chocolate, lemonade, orgeat, negus, milk, etc.; admission by ticket, cost, three shillings; dress, decent, full not required; some in boots; one carelessly in spurs happening to catch a lady’s flounce, he was obliged to apologize and take them off. The ladies were rigged out in gaudy attire, attended by bucks, bloods, and maccaronies, though it is also resorted to by persons of irreproachable character: among the wheat will be tares.

The arrangement of the house is as follows: From the vestibule, where the tickets are received, the entrance is through a short passage into the first room, of a moderate size, covered with carpets, and furnished with wooden chairs and seats in Chinese taste; through this the company passes to another of a larger size, furnished and accommodated as the former; passing this, you enter the long-room, about eighty feet by forty; this is the largest, and lighted with glass chandeliers and branches fixed to side-walls, against which stand sofas covered with silk,—floors carpeted. Hence, tending to the left, you cross the hall, and enter the wilderness or grotto, having natural evergreens planted round the walls; the centre an oblong square, about twenty-five feet long and fifteen broad, fenced with an open railing, a few shrubs interspersed, flowering moss and grass; in one of the angles is a natural well, with a living spring, which the attendant told me was mineral. Fronting the entrance, in the centre, at the further end is a cave cased with petrifactions, stones artificially cut into resemblance of the former, and spars, with here and there a dim lamp so placed as to afford but an imperfect sight of surrounding objects. To the top of the arch leading to the cave, is an ascent of two flights of steps on each hand, and over it a room not unlike in form the cave below, painted in modern style in oval compartments, containing hieroglyphics and ancient stories; on the same elevation is a narrow gallery, continued on either side to about half the length of room, fronted near three feet high with an open Chinese fence or railing: this room is about fifty feet deep by thirty wide, lighted as the others with variegated lamps, but rather dim; next enter into two tea-rooms, each with tables for forty sets or parties.

So far for my imperfect description of this house, wherein the well-known Mrs. Cornelly used to accommodate the nobility, etc., with masquerades and coteries. Dress of the ladies differed widely; one part swept their track by long trails, the other by an enormous size of hoops and petticoats. The company usually resorting there about seven hundred, as the ticket receiver told me;—this evening the house was thronged with a good thousand. The rooms were filled, so that we could scarce pass without jostling, interfering, and elbowing; for my own part, being old, small, and infirm, I received more than a score of full butt rencounters with females;—whether provision was not made for so large a company, or whatever the cause may be, it was full two hours before I could procure a dish of tea, after fifteen vain attempts, nor was I singular; and when served, it was in a slovenly manner on a dirty tea-stand. I never saw a place of public resort where the company was treated with so little respect by servants; even common tea-houses, whose character is far humbler, as “Bagnigge Wells,” “White Conduit House,” “Dog and Duck,” etc., are in this respect preferable. It would be treating “Ranelagh” with great indignity to bring it into comparison with this which is designed to supply its place during the long vacation of that fashionable resort; nor are Vauxhall Gardens less than a thousand times beyond this in every eligible circumstance, unless I saw it under peculiar disadvantages.

Met Peter Frye and young William Eppes there; also saw the Duke of Queensbury, who I was told is a never-failing attendant on places of dissipation, which his seeming age should, one might think, restrain him from such juvenile amusements; but old habits are strong, and too powerful to be resisted when long indulged. Tired of this scene, I took myself off at the early hour of twelve, and, bidding adieu to Carlisle House, after a few égaremens arrived with no small content at my own lodgings.