Invisible in the photograph, the skull still has a bit of wobbly jowl attached. It is kept at St Gregory because the Archbishop had contributed generously to the church’s rebuilding fund.
On a spring day in 1763, two famous names from English literature met for the first time at this bookshop in Russell Street, near Covent Garden. The younger man never forgot the occasion:
‘At last, on Monday the 16th of May, when I was sitting in Mr Davies’s back-parlour, after having drunk tea with him and Mrs Davies, ******* unexpectedly came into the shop; and Mr Davies having perceived him through the glass-door in the room in which we were sitting, advancing towards us, he announced his awful approach to me, somewhat in the manner of an actor in the part of Horatio, when he addresses Hamlet on the appearance of his father’s ghost, “Look, my Lord, it comes.”
‘Mr Davies mentioned my name, and respectfully introduced me to him. I was much agitated; and recollecting his prejudice against the Scotch, of which I had heard much, I said to Davies, “Don’t tell where I come from.” – “From Scotland,” cried Davies, roguishly.
“Mr *******, (said I) I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” I am willing to flatter myself that I meant this as a light pleasantry to soothe and conciliate him… but this speech was somewhat unlucky; for with that quickness of wit for which he was so remarkable, he seized the expression “come from Scotland”… and retorted, “That, Sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.”
‘This stroke stunned me a good deal; and when we had sat down, I felt myself not a little embarrassed, and apprehensive of what might come next.’
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 45. Who were the two literary gentlemen who met here?
‘As sharp as Evelyn Waugh and sometimes better’ – Times Literary Supplement
‘Good, clean fun’ – Daily Telegraph
‘Pure comic pleasure’ – Spectator