I met this evening with the genial Mr Honey at the Tatler’s Waste-Bin and he described to me an extraordinary coincidence – which I have set down exactly as he told it to me, having only freed it from the impedimentary oaths, particular part-truths and periphrasis that will pepper his conversation as he takes his fourth and fifth pints.
‘After an evening spent in the company of Lord G in St James’, I had a fancy to take a walk through London and fell in with – heaven knows whence I had come or whither I thought I was going – a Miss K from Leeds who confessed that by an extraordinary fortune she was a correspondent of the Brown Advisor. She explained that she had come to Chelsea to look for a house, but gesturing at the scaffolding still up on every street, she asked me how long the district had been under construction and when it was likely to be finished. I was bound in all honesty to tell her that the situation had arisen before in those parts of Italy where unsociable families, in a bid to out-do each other, each endeavoured to build taller towers than their neighbour, and that nothing would stop the competition until the buildings had become unstable and there was a general collapse. I added that only a nation that had given birth to the picturesque controversy could have taken a barely credible Italian architectural contest and turned it on its head to make something so delightfully unexpected – a tower may offer more fresh air and a better view, while it stands, but it will always be immodest and impolite; the Chelsea tradition of digging ever deeper basements on the other hand, while it may undermine your foundations and threaten the stability of your house just as surely as the Italian, and while it offers subterranean musk for fresh air, and damp walls for a view, will never draw attention to itself.
Expatiating, as I warmed to my theme, I advanced to rugby, that game born of the English genius for the picturesque. It takes soccer, and gives it a special kick by changing its every rule (the ball cannot be round; points are scored by kicking over the bar, rather than under; physical contact is essential, the ball must be handled and can only be passed backwards, away from the goal that you are running at), and so comes up with rugby, quite another game, but one which all those nations inclined to the picturesque, as the Welsh and Scottish, have adopted as their own.
Indeed I was searching my pockets for a scrap of paper on which I had written out your note on Mason and the picturesque (note 71) when she begged my pardon and rushed away – poor girl, she did seem very tired, and had suddenly resolved to stay in Leeds until the Chelsea situation settles.’