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- Travels in England in 1782 - 1/28 -


Transcribed from the 1886 Cassell & Company edition by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

TRAVELS IN ENGLAND IN 1782

INTRODUCTION

Charles P. Moritz's "Travels, chiefly on foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend," were translated from the German by a lady, and published in 1795. John Pinkerton included them in the second volume of his Collection of Voyages and Travels.

The writer of this account of England as it was about a hundred years ago, and seven years before the French Revolution, was a young Prussian clergyman, simply religious, calmly enthusiastic for the freer forms of citizenship, which he found in England and contrasted with the military system of Berlin. The touch of his times was upon him, with some of the feeling that caused Frenchmen, after the first outbreak of the Revolution, to hail Englishmen as "their forerunners in the glorious race." He had learnt English at home, and read Milton, whose name was inscribed then in German literature on the banners of the free.

In 1782 Charles Moritz came to England with little in his purse and "Paradise Lost" in his pocket, which he meant to read in the Land of Milton. He came ready to admire, and enthusiasm adds some colour to his earliest impressions; but when they were coloured again by hard experience, the quiet living sympathy remained. There is nothing small in the young Pastor Moritz, we feel a noble nature in his true simplicity of character.

He stayed seven weeks with us, three of them in London. He travelled on foot to Richmond, Windsor, Oxford, Birmingham, and Matlock, with some experience of a stage coach on the way back; and when, in dread of being hurled from his perch on the top as the coach flew down hill, he tried a safer berth among the luggage in the basket, he had further experience. It was like that of Hood's old lady, in the same place of inviting shelter, who, when she crept out, had only breath enough left to murmur, "Oh, them boxes!"

Pastor Moritz's experience of inns was such as he hardly could pick up in these days of the free use of the feet. But in those days everybody who was anybody rode. And even now, there might be cold welcome to a shabby-looking pedestrian without a knapsack. Pastor Moritz had his Milton in one pocket and his change of linen in the other. From some inns he was turned away as a tramp, and in others he found cold comfort. Yet he could be proud of a bit of practical wisdom drawn by himself out of the "Vicar of Wakefield," that taught him to conciliate the innkeeper by drinking with him; and the more the innkeeper drank of the ale ordered the better, because Pastor Moritz did not like it, and it did not like him. He also felt experienced in the ways of the world when, having taken example from the manners of a bar-maid, if he drank in a full room he did not omit to say, "Your healths, gentlemen all."

Fielding's Parson Adams, with his AEschylus in his pocket, and Parson Moritz with his Milton, have points of likeness that bear strong witness to Fielding's power of entering into the spirit of a true and gentle nature. After the first touches of enthusiastic sentiment, that represent real freshness of enjoyment, there is no reaction to excess in opposite extreme. The young foot traveller settles down to simple truth, retains his faith in English character, and reports ill-usage without a word of bitterness.

The great charm of this book is its unconscious expression of the writer's character. His simple truthfulness presents to us of 1886 as much of the England of 1782 as he was able to see with eyes full of intelligence and a heart full of kindness. He heard Burke speak on the death of his friend and patron Lord Rockingham, with sudden rebuke to an indolent and inattentive house. He heard young Pitt, and saw how he could fix, boy as he looked, every man's attention.

"Oh, wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursels as others see us! It wad frae many a blunder free us, And foolish notion."

And when the power is so friendly as that of the Pastor Moritz, we may, if wise, know ourselves better than from a thousand satires, but if foolish we may let all run into self-praise.

H. M.

CHAPTER I.

On the Thames, 31st May.

At length, my dearest Gedike, I find myself safely landed on the happy shores of that country, a sight of which has, for many years, been my most earnest wish; and whither I have so often in imagination transported myself. A few hours ago the green hills of England yet swam imperfectly before our eyes, scarcely perceptible in the distant horizon: they now unfold themselves on either side, forming as it were a double amphitheatre. The sun bursts through the clouds, and gilds alternately the shrubs and meadows on the distant shores, and we now espy the tops of two masts of ships just peeping above the surface of the deep. What an awful warning to adventurous men! We now sail close by those very sands (the Goodwin) where so many unfortunate persons have found their graves.

The shores now regularly draw nearer to each other: the danger of the voyage is over; and the season for enjoyment, unembittered by cares, commences. How do we feel ourselves, we, who have long been wandering as it were, in a boundless space, on having once more gained prospects that are not without limits! I should imagine our sensations as somewhat like those of the traveller who traverses the immeasurable deserts of America, when fortunately he obtains a hut wherein to shelter himself; in those moments he certainly enjoys himself; nor does he then complain of its being too small. It is indeed the lot of man to be always circumscribed to a narrow space, even when he wanders over the most extensive regions; even when the huge sea envelops him all around, and wraps him close to its bosom, in the act, as it were, of swallowing him up in a moment: still he is separated from all the circumjacent immensity of space only by one small part, or insignificant portion of that immensity.

That portion of this space, which I now see surrounding me, is a most delightful selection from the whole of beautiful nature. Here is the Thames full of large and small ships and boats, dispersed here and there, which are either sailing on with us, or lying at anchor; and there the hills on either side, clad with so soft and mild a green, as I have nowhere else ever seen equalled. The charming banks of the Elbe, which I so lately quitted, are as much surpassed by these shores as autumn is by spring! I see everywhere nothing but fertile and cultivated lands; and those living hedges which in England more than in any other country, form the boundaries of the green cornfields, and give to the whole of the distant country the appearance of a large and majestic garden. The neat villages and small towns with sundry intermediate country seats, suggest ideas of prosperity and opulence which is not possible to describe.

The prospect towards Gravesend is particularly beautiful. It is a clever little town, built on the side of a hill; about which there lie hill and dale and meadows, and arable land, intermixed with pleasure grounds and country seats; all diversified in the most agreeable manner. On one of the highest of these hills near Gravesend stands a windmill, which is a very good object, as you see it at some distance, as well as part of the country around it, on the windings of the Thames. But as few human pleasures are ever complete and perfect, we too, amidst the pleasing contemplation of all these beauties, found ourselves exposed on the quarter-deck to uncommonly cold and piercing weather. An unintermitting violent shower of rain has driven me into the cabin, where I am now endeavouring to divert a gloomy hour by giving you the description of a pleasing one.

CHAPTER II.

London, 2nd June.

This morning those of us who were fellow passengers together in the great cabin, being six in number, requested to be set on shore in a boat, a little before the vessel got to Dartford, which is still sixteen miles from London. This expedient is generally adopted, instead of going up the Thames, towards London, where on account of the astonishing number of ships, which are always more crowded together the nearer you approach the city, it frequently requires many days before a ship can finish her passage. He therefore who wishes to lose no time unnecessarily, and wishes also to avoid other inconveniences, such as frequent stoppages, and perhaps, some alarming dashings against other ships, prefers travelling those few miles by land in a post-chaise, which is not very expensive, especially when three join together, as three passengers pay no more than one. This indulgence is allowed by act of parliament.

As we left the vessel we were honoured with a general huzza, or in the English phrase with three cheers, echoed from the German sailors of our ship. This nautical style of bidding their friends farewell our Germans have learned from the English. The cliff where we landed was white and chalky, and as the distance was not great, nor other means of conveyance at hand, we resolved to go on foot to Dartford: immediately on landing we had a pretty steep hill to climb, and that gained, we arrived at the first English village, where an uncommon neatness in the structure of the houses, which in general are built with red bricks and flat roofs, struck me with a pleasing surprise, especially when I compared them with the long,


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