One of the most enthralling and endearing things about London is the way the memory of the great people, whose names are so familiar that you feel you would know their bearers if you met them, pervades the city and crops up in such very unexpected places. If business ever took you through that evil-smelling fishy Lower Thames Street, you would discover that Chaucer lived there for six years when he was Comptroller of the Petty Customs in the Port of London. You stroll through the little Cloisters in Westminster Abbey, of all places in the world, and some one tells you that Lady Hamilton once lived in the Littlington Tower, when she was servant to Mr. Hare and had no thought that she would ever inspire a hero to great victories. You think that when you have seen Sir Thomas More’s tomb in Chelsea Old Church, and Crosby Hall near by, you have exhausted the souvenirs of his life, but you find him again in Westminster Hall, where he was condemned to death-in the Deanery where he spent two months in charge of the Abbot of Westminster, in Lincoln’s Inn-in Milk Street in the City, where he was born, “the brightest star that ever shone in that Via Lactea “-in the church of St. Lawrence Jewry where he lectured, and in the Tower where he died.
Dr. Johnson, of course, was ubiquitous. He went everywhere and usually said something noteworthy about everything. One of the great difficulties in writing this book has been to refrain from quoting him too frequently, and Pepys is even worse. The kindly official in the Clothworkers’ Hall (where I lunched once on a special occasion) said to me: “Samuel Pepys, Ma’am, Pepys the great Diarist-you may have heard of him,”and I felt like replying: “My good man, I have been with your Pepys through Chelsea-and in St. Margaret’s, Westminster, where he was married-I have seen his portrait at the Royal Society Rooms in Burlington House and his house in Buckingham Street -the church of St. Bride, where his birth was registered-St. Lawrence Jewry, where he was disappointed with Wilkins’ sermon -All Hallows, Barking, that, as he wrote on the 5th September, 1666, only just escaped the Great Fire-his parish church of St. Olave’s, where he worshipped, and Hyde Park, where he used to go driving with his wife.”