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In Dickens’ time, as in our own, and even at as early a period as that of Drayton, Fleet Street, as it has latterly been known, has been the abode of letters and of literary labours.

The diarists, journalists, political and religious writers of every party and creed have adopted it as their own particular province. Grub Street no longer exists, so that the simile of Doctor Johnson does not still hold true.

The former Grub Street “inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems” (vide Doctor Johnson’s Dictionary) has become Milton Street through the mindful regard of some former sponsor, by reason of the nearness of its location to the former Bunhill residence of the great epic poet. But modern Fleet Street exists to-day as the street of journalists and journalism, from the humble penny-a-liner and his product to the more sedate and verbose political paragrapher whose reputation extends throughout the world.

Nowhere else is there a long mile of such an atmosphere, redolent of printers’ ink and the bustle attendant upon the production and distribution of the printed word. And nowhere else is the power of the press more potent.

Its historian has described it as “a line of street, with shops and houses on either side, between Temple Bar and Ludgate Hill, one of the largest thoroughfares in London, and one of the most famous.”

Its name was derived from the ancient streamlet called the Fleet, more commonly “Fleet Ditch,” near whose confluence with the Thames, at Ludgate Hill, was the notorious Fleet Prison, with its equally notorious “marriages.”

This reeking abode of mismanagement was pulled down in 1844, when the “Marshalsea,” “The Fleet,” and the “Queen’s Bench” (all three reminiscent of Dickens, likewise Newgate, not far away) were consolidated in a new structure erected elsewhere.

The unsavoury reputation of the old prison of the Fleet, its “chaplains,” and its “marriages,” are too well-known to readers of contemporary literature to be more than mentioned here.

The memory of the famous persons who were at one time or another confined in this “noisome place with a pestilential atmosphere” are recalled by such names as Bishop Hooper, the martyr; Nash, the poet and satirist; Doctor Donne, Killigrew, the Countess of Dorset, Viscount Falkland, William Prynne, Richard Savage, and of the greatest possible interest to Americans William Penn, who lived “within the rules” in 1707.

The two churches lying contiguous to this thoroughfare, St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West and St. Bride’s, are mentioned elsewhere; also the outlying courts and alleys, such as Falcon, Mitre, and Salisbury Courts, Crane Court, Fetter Lane, Chancery Lane, Whitefriars, Bolt Court, Bell Yard, and Shoe Lane, the Middle and Inner Temples, and Sergeant’s Inn.

The great fire of London of 1666 stopped at St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West and at the easterly confines of the Temple opposite.

Michael Drayton, the poet, lived at “a baye-windowed house next the east end of St. Dunstan’s Church,” and Cowley was born “near unto the corner of Chancery Lane.”

The “Horn Tavern,” near which was Mrs. Salmon’s celebrated waxwork exhibition (for which species of entertainment the street had been famous since Elizabeth’s time), is now Anderton’s Hotel, still a famous house for “pressmen,” the name by which the London newspaper writer is known.

A mere mention of the sanctity of letters which surrounded the Fleet Street of a former day, is presumably the excuse for connecting it with the later development of literary affairs, which may be said so far as its modern repute is concerned, to have reached its greatest and most popular height in Dickens’ own time.

The chroniclers, the diarists, and the satirists had come and gone. Richardson the father of the English novel lay buried in St. Bride’s, and the innovation of the great dailies had passed the stage of novelty. The Gentleman’s Magazine and the Reviews had been established three-quarters of a century before. The Times had just begun to be printed by steam. Each newspaper bore an imprinted government stamp of a penny per copy, a great source of revenue in that the public paid it, not the newspaper proprietor. (The Times then sold for five pence per copy.) The Illustrated London News, the pioneer of illustrated newspapers, had just come into existence, and Punch under Blanchard Jerrold had just arrived at maturity, so to speak. Such, in a brief way, were the beginnings of the journalism of our day; and Dickens’ connection therewith, as Parliamentary reporter of The True Sun and The Morning Chronicle, were the beginnings of his days of assured and adequate income, albeit that it came to him at a comparatively early period of his life. The London journalist of Dickens’ day was different in degree only from the present. The True Sun, for which Dickens essayed his first reportorial work, and later The Morning Chronicle, were both influential journals, and circulated between them perhaps forty thousand copies, each bearing a penny stamp impressed on the margin, as was the law.

The newspapers of London, as well as of most great cities, had a localized habitation, yclept Newspaper Row or Printing-House Square, and other similar appellations. In London the majority of them were, and are, printed east of Temple Bar, in, or south of, Fleet Street, between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges. To borrow Johnson’s phrase, this is the mart “whose staple is news.”

The Times “The Thunderer” of old was housed in a collection of buildings which surrounded Printing-House Square, just east of Blackfriars Bridge. In 1840 The Times had, or was understood to have, three editors, fifteen reporters, with a more or less uncertain and fluctuating number of correspondents, news collectors, and occasional contributors. These by courtesy were commonly referred to as the intellectual workers. For the rest, compositors, pressmen, mechanics, clerks, et al., were of a class distinct in themselves. The perfecting press had just come into practical use, and though the process must appear laboriously slow to-day when only 2,500 perfected copies of a four-page paper were turned out in an hour, The Times was in its day at the head of the list as to organization, equipment, and influence.

The other morning and evening papers, The Post, The Advertiser, The Globe, The Standard, The Morning Chronicle, and The Sun, all had similar establishments though on a smaller scale.

But two exclusively literary papers were issued in 1840 The Literary Gazette and The Athenaeum, the latter being to-day the almost universal mentor and guide for the old-school lover of literature throughout the world. The Spectator was the most vigorous of the weekly political and social papers, now sadly degenerated, and Bell’s Life in London, which had printed some of Dickens’ earlier work, was the only nominal “sporting paper.” Church papers, trade papers, society papers, and generally informative journals were born, issued for a time, then died in those days as in the present.

Punch was, and is, the most thoroughly representative British humourous journal, and since its birth in the forties has been domiciled in Bouverie Street, just off the main thoroughfare of Fleet Street.

The literary production in this vast workshop in point of bulk alone is almost beyond comprehension. In 1869, a year before Dickens’ death, there were published in London alone three hundred and seventy-two magazines and serials, seventy-two quarterlies, and two hundred and ninety-eight newspapers etc.

As for the golden days of the “Highway of Letters,” they were mostly in the glorious past, but, in a way, they have continued to this day. A brief review of some of the more important names and events connected with this famous street will, perhaps, not be out of place here.

Among the early printers and booksellers were Wynken de Worde, “at ye signe of ye Sonne;” Richard Pynson, the title-pages or colophons of whose works bore the inscription, “emprynted by me Richard Pynson at the temple barre of London (1493);” Rastell, “at the sign of the Star;” Richard Tottel, “within Temple-bar, at the signe of the Hände and Starre,” which in Dickens’ day had become the shop of a low bookseller by the name of Butterworth, who it was said still held the original leases. Others who printed and published in the vicinity were W. Copeland, “at the signe of the Rose Garland;” Bernard Lintot, “at the Cross Keys;” Edmund Curll, “at the Dial and Bible,” and Lawton Gulliver, “at Homer’s Head,” against St. Dunstan’s Church; and Jacob Robinson, on the west side of the gateway “leading down the Inner Temple Lane,” an establishment which Dickens must have known as Groom’s, the confectioner’s. Here Pope and Warburton first met, and cultivated an acquaintanceship which afterward developed into as devoted a friendship as ever existed between man and man. The fruit of this was the publication (in 1739) of a pamphlet which bore the title, “A Vindication of Mr. Pope’s ‘Essay on Man,’ by the Author of ’The Divine Legation of Moses,’ printed for J. Robinson.”

At Collins’ shop, “at the Black Boy in Fleet Street,” was published the first “Peerage,” while other names equally famous were the publishers, T. White, H. Lowndes, and John Murray.

Another trade which was firmly established here was the bankers, “Child’s,” at Temple Bar, being the oldest existing banking-house in London to-day. Here Richard Blanchard and Francis Child, “at the Marygold in Fleet Street,” who were goldsmiths with “running cashes,” were first established in the reign of Charles II. “In the hands of Mr. Blanchard, goldsmith, next door to Temple Bar,” Dryden deposited his L50 received for the discovery of the “bullies” by whom Lord Rochester had been barbarously assaulted in Covent Garden.

Another distinctive feature of Fleet Street was the taverns and coffee-houses. “The Devil,” “The King’s Head,” at the corner of Chancery Lane, “The Bolt-in-Tun,” “The Horn Tavern,” “The Mitre,” “The Cock,” and “The Rainbow,” with “Dick’s,” “Nando’s,” and “Peele’s,” at the corner of Fetter Lane its descendant still existing, completes the list of the most famous of these houses of entertainment.

To go back to a still earlier time, to connect therewith perhaps the most famous name of English literature, bar Shakespeare, it is recorded that Chaucer “once beat a Franciscan friar in Fleet Street,” and was fined two shillings for the privilege by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. As the chroniclers have it: “So Speght heard from Master Barkly, who had seen the entry in the records of the Inner Temple.”

A rather gruesome anecdote is recounted by Hughson in his “Walks through London” (1817), concerning Flower-de-Luce Court (Fleur-de-Lis Court), just off Fetter Lane in Fleet Street. This concerned the notorious Mrs. Brownrigg, who was executed in 1767 for the murder of Mary Clifford, her apprentice. “The grating from which the cries of the poor child issued” being still existent at the time when Hughson wrote and presumably for some time after. Canning, in imitation of Southey, recounts it thus in verse:

“... Dost thou ask her crime?
She whipp’d two female ’prentices to death,
And hid them in the coal-hole. For this act
Did Brownrigg swing. Harsh laws! But time shall come,
When France shall reign and laws be all repeal’d.”

Which gladsome (?) day has fortunately not yet come.

No resume of the attractions of Fleet Street can well be made without some mention of Whitefriars, that region comprehended between the boundaries of the Temple on one side, and where once was the Fleet Ditch on the other. Its present day association with letters mostly has to do with journalism, Carmelite Street, Whitefriars Street, and other lanes and alleys of the immediate neighbourhood being given over to the production of the great daily and weekly output of printed sheets. This ancient precinct formerly contained the old church of the White Friars, a community known in full as Fratres Beatae Mariae de Mont Carmeli.

Founded by Sir Richard Grey in 1241, the church was surrendered at the Reformation, and the Hall was made into the first Whitefriars Theatre, and the precinct newly named Alsatia, celebrated in modern literature by Scott in the “Fortunes of Nigel.” “The George Tavern,” mentioned in Shadwell’s play, “The Squire of Alsatia,” became later the printing shop of one Bowyer, and still more recently the printing establishment of Messrs. Bradbury and Evans, the publishers and proprietors of Punch, which building was still more recently removed for the present commodious structure occupied by this firm. In Dickens’ time it was in part at least the old “George Tavern.” It is singular perhaps that Dickens’ connection with the famous “Round Table” of Punch was not more intimate than it was. It is not known that a single article of his was ever printed in its pages, though it is to be presumed he contributed several, and one at least is definitely acknowledged.

Ram Alley and Pye Corner were here in Alsatia, the former a passage between the Temple and Sergeant’s Inn, which existed until recently.

Mitre Court is perhaps the most famous and revered of all the purlieus of Fleet Street. “The Mitre Tavern,” or rather a reminiscence of it, much frequented by the London journalist of to-day and of Dickens’ time, still occupies the site of a former structure which has long since disappeared, where Johnson used to drink his port, and where he made his famous remark to Ogilvie with regard to the noble prospects of Scotland: “I believe, sir, you have a great many ... but, sir, let me tell you the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the highroad that leads him to England.”

Of all the old array of taverns of Fleet Street, “The Cock” most recently retained a semblance, at least, of its former characteristics, which recalls one of Tennyson’s early poems, “A Monologue of Will Waterproof,” which has truly immortalized this house of refreshment:

"Thou plump head-waiter at the Cock
To which I most resort,
How goes the time? Is’t nine o’clock?
Then fetch a pint of port."

Salisbury Court, or Salisbury Square as it has now become, is another of those literary suburbs of Fleet Street if one may so call it where modern literature was fostered and has prospered. It occupies the courtyard of Salisbury or Dorset House. Betterton, Cave, and Sandford, the actors, lived here; Shadwell, Lady Davenant, the widow of the laureate; Dryden and Richardson also. Indeed Richardson wrote “Pamela” here, and Goldsmith was his “press corrector.”