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Jack Wilkes and Liberty—Gore House— Wilberforce
Count D'Orsay and the Countess of BlessingtonHer sad History—Alexis Soyer, the Prince of Cooks.
If we leave the Gardens, and, passing by the Albert Memorial, enter the high road near the Knightsbridge Barracks, we shall find ourselves at the eastern extremity of Kenna's Kingdom.
The parish here is narrowed into a little slip, like a triangle with the top cut off, and ladies will at once see how appropriate is the name of gore, or goar, as used by dressmakers, which derivation we much prefer to one that signifies “mud and dirt,” for which the road from London to Kensington was at one time famous. The name is as old as the troubled times of wicked King John, during whose reign we find it mentioned under the outlandish appellation of Kinggesgor. We also find it alluded to as Kyng's Gore, and the Gara. or the Gare, which Herbert, Abbot of Westminster, gave to the nuns of Kilburn. Kensington Gore consisted of five small houses, which Leigh Hunt thought would exactly suit a supernumerary set of maids of honour, or five younger brothers of lords of the bedchamber, all bachelors, and expecting places in reversion. But two of these houses had histories of their own.
In No. 2, lived Wilkes. Jack Wilkes, blackguard and fine gentleman, scholar and demagogue, political scribbler and libertine, idol of the city and the people, and general representative of Liberty. It is strange, indeed, under what forms that goddess is venerated. Wilkes was just as much a representative of Liberty as was the frail goddess of the French Republicans Yet for some time Wilkes and Liberty followed each other as u follows q. “A wit of the time, indeed," says Leigh Hunt, “commenced a letter with 'Sir, I take the Wilkes and Liberty to assure you.'”
Wilkes in 1763 was the editor, and, indeed, almost entire writer of a scurrilous journal, the North Briton. In the celebrated No. 45 of that journal, he censured
the King's speech on the closing of Parliament, with a freedom unusual, though not greater than Wilkes had himself exercised in former numbers of the obnoxious publication.
In truth the libel was a dull one, and is described by Burke, as "a spiritless, though virulent performance,-a mere mixture of vinegar and water, at once vapid and sour.”
The then Prime Minister, Charles Grenville, of whose heedlessness and incapacity England still witnesses the effects, had Wilkes arrested by a general warrant, one not specifying the names of any persons, but directed against the authors, printers, and publishers. Thus Wilkes became a martyr, and the No. 45 famous. How Wilkes was released on his privilege as a member of Parliament; how he recovered damages in an action brought against the Under Secretary of State ; how he was expelled the House of Commons and outlawed; how general warrants were declared illegal by the Rockingham administration which succeeded Grenville's; how Wilkes retired to France, and how he returned in 1768, and was elected member for Middlesex; how the election was declared null and
void ; and how he was again returned, and passed over by the House of Commons, and of the storm that these proceedings raised, all this is matter of general history, and is a story that has been told and retold.
When at length he was permitted in 1774 to take his seat for Middlesex, and was in the same month installed as Lord Mayor of London, he became nobody. Never, perhaps, in England had a greater scoundrel, a greater share of public popularity and admiration. Benjamin Franklin believed that if George III. had had a bad private character and John Wilkes a good one, the latter might have turned the former out of the kingdom.
The same statesman tells us how when visiting the neighbourhood of Winchester, there was for a length of sixty-four miles scarcely a window or door shutter next the road unmarked with “Wilkes and Liberty," and "Number 45." Without these safeguards, indeed, the windows would probably have been smashed, and the doors broken open.
The sound of Wilkes and 45 was so much disliked in the Court that George the Fourth, when a boy, having been scolded for some naughtiness could think of no more deadly revenge than creeping up to the door of the King's room, shouting “Wilkes and No. 45 for ever!” and then running off again. But Wilkes' demagogue days were over when he took up his residence at Kensington Gore.
He was a very ugly man, tall and thin, with a sallow face, a squint, and an underhanging jaw. These graces of nature he set off by a suit of scarlet and buff, a rosetted cocked hat, and military boots. Ugly as he was, his impudence, audacity, and wit, made him a great favourite with the ladies. He himself would say that he wanted but a half-hour at starting to make him, the ugliest man in England, even with the handsomest.
Three doors from Wilkes' house lived, at a considerably later period, a dandy of another sort—the handsomest man in England.
This was Count D'Orsay, but the Count can best be considered in connection with Gore House. Gore House was the last of the row—a low, unornamented, white-painted building, which stood not many yards 'to the east of the great entrance of the Albert Hall.