Saturday 18 April 2020

London looks like a scene from a thriller

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London looks like a scene from an Edwardian thriller, by Edgar Wallace or John Buchan. There was an Avengers episode where Steed and Mrs Peel wake up (in separate establishments, of course) to find London is deserted.

Sir Edwin Landseer carved the lions in Trafalgar Square. I read, in one of the countless Edwardian memoirs I devoured pointlessly between Cambridge and the start of real life, if you can call it real, that he bought an old, toothless circus lion to model his lions. One day he invited some society ladies to tea, forgetting that his lion was in the drawing room. The ladies ran away in horror (it was before feminism) crying out, 'Oh, Mr. Landseer, a lion!'
In the same memoirs, I thought I read that Landseer went mad, killed his wife and was certified insane. After that, when he was invited to spend Friday to Monday in great houses, he had to be accompanied at all times by his keeper, who was said to be a vulgar man. 

But today I researched this and found it is not true. Landseer did go mad, he did have to be accompanied by a keeper when invited to great houses, but he never married and I don't think he killed anyone.

I recall that after coming down I read The Days Before Yesterday, the memoirs of Lord Frederic Hamilton. It's on the net thanks to Project Gutenberg and in it I find the story of the lion, but nothing about killing his wife. I must have confused Landseer with another lunatic.

Of a very different type was another constant and always welcome visitor to our house, Sir Edwin Landseer, the painter. He was one of my father and mother's oldest friends, and had

been an equally close friend of my grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. He had painted three portraits of my father, and five of my mother. Two of the latter had been engraved, and, under the titles of "Cottage Industry" and "The Mask," had a very large sale in mid-Victorian days. His large picture of my two eldest sisters, which hung over our dining-room chimney-piece, had also been engraved, and was a great favourite, under the title of "The Abercorn Children." Landseer was a most delightful person, and the best company that can be imagined. My father and mother were quite devoted to him, and both of them always addressed him as "Lanny." My mother going to call on him at his St. John's Wood house, found "Lanny" in the garden, working from a ladder on a gigantic mass of clay. Turning the corner, she was somewhat alarmed at finding a full-grown lion stretched out on the lawn. Landseer had been commissioned by the Government to model the four lions for the base of Nelson's pillar in Trafalgar Square. He had made some studies in the Zoological Gardens, but as he always preferred working from the live model, he arranged that an elderly and peculiarly docile lion should be brought to his house from the Zoo in a furniture van attended by two keepers. Should any one wish to know what that particular lion looked like, they have only to glance at the base of the Nelson pillar. On paying an afternoon call, it is so unusual to find a live lion included amongst the guests, that my mother's perturbation at finding herself in such close proximity to a huge loose carnivore is, perhaps, pardonable.

.....Towards the end of his life Landseer became hopelessly insane and, during his periods of violence a dangerous homicidal maniac. Such an affection, however, had my father and mother for the friend of their younger days, that they still had him to stay with us in Kent for long periods. He had necessarily to bring a large retinue with him: his own trained mental attendant; Dr. Tuke, a very celebrated alienist in his day; and, above all, Mrs. Pritchard. The case of Mrs. Pritchard is such an instance of devoted friendship as to be worth recording. She was an elderly widow of small means, Landseer's neighbour in St. John's Wood; a little dried-up, shrivelled old woman. The two became firm allies, and when Landseer's reason became hopelessly deranged, Mrs. Pritchard devoted her whole life to looking after her afflicted friend. In spite of her scanty means, she refused to accept any salary, and Landseer was like wax in her hands. In his most violent moods when the keeper and Dr. Tuke both failed to quiet him, Mrs. Pritchard had only to hold up her finger and he became calm at once. Either his clouded reason or some remnant of his old sense of fun led him to talk of Mrs. Pritchard as his "pocket Venus." To people staying with us (who, I think, were a little alarmed at finding themselves in the company of a lunatic, however closely watched he might be), he would say, "In two minutes you will see the loveliest of her sex. A little dainty creature, perfect in feature, perfect in shape, who might have stepped bodily out of the frame of a Greuze. A perfect dream of loveliness." They were considerably astonished when a little wizened woman, with a face like a withered apple, entered the room. He was fond, too, of descanting on Mrs. Pritchard's wonderfully virtuous temperament, notwithstanding her amazing charms. Visitors probably reflected that, given her appearance, the path of duty must have been rendered very easy to her.

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