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- Travels in England in 1782 - 20/28 -
cottages, only one storey high, with shingled roofs, are ranged all along its banks. These houses impressed me strongly with the idea of patriarchal simplicity and content.
We went to see Shakespeare's own house, which, of all the houses at Stratford I think is now the worst, and one that made the least appearance. Yet, who would not be proud to be the owner of it? There now however lived in it only two old people, who show it to strangers for a trifle, and what little they earn thus is their chief income.
Shakespeare's chair, in which he used to sit before the door, was so cut to pieces that it hardly looked like a chair; for every one that travels through Stratford cuts off a chip as a remembrance, which he carefully preserves, and deems a precious relic, I also cut myself a piece of it, but reverencing Shakespeare as I do, I am almost ashamed to own to you it was so small that I have lost it, and therefore you will not see it on my return.
As we travelled, I observed every spot with attention, fancying to myself that such or such a spot might be the place where such a genius as Shakespeare's first dawned, and received those first impressions from surrounding nature which are so strongly marked in all his works. The first impressions of childhood, I knew, were strong and permanent; of course I made sure of seeing here some images at least of the wonderful conceptions of this wonderful man. But my imagination misled me, and I was disappointed; for I saw nothing in the country thereabouts at all striking, or in any respect particularly beautiful. It was not at all wild and romantic; but rather distinguished for an air of neatness and simplicity.
We arrived at Birmingham about three o'clock in the afternoon. I had already paid sixteen shillings at Stratford for my place in the coach from Oxford to Birmingham. At Oxford they had not asked anything of me, and indeed you are not obliged in general in England, as you are in Germany, to pay your passage beforehand.
My companion and myself alighted at the inn where the coach stopped. We parted with some reluctance, and I was obliged to promise him that, on my return to London, I would certainly call on him, for which purpose he gave me his address. His father was Dr. Wilson, a celebrated author in his particular style of writing.
I now inquired for the house of Mr. Fothergill, to whom I was recommended, and I was readily directed to it, but had the misfortune to learn, at the same time, that this very Mr. Fothergill had died about eight days before. As, therefore, under these circumstances, my recommendation to him was likely to be but of little use, I had the less desire to tarry long at Birmingham, and so, without staying a minute longer, I immediately inquired the road to Derby, and left Birmingham. Of this famous manufacturing town, therefore, I can give you no account.
The road from Birmingham onwards is not very agreeable, being in general uncommonly sandy. Yet the same evening I reached a little place called Sutton, where everything, however, appeared to be too grand for me to hope to obtain lodgings in it, till quite at the end of it I came to a small inn with the sign of the Swan, under which was written Aulton, brickmaker.
This seemed to have something in it that suited me, and therefore I boldly went into it; and when in I did not immediately, as heretofore, inquire if I could stay all night there, but asked for a pint of ale. I own I felt myself disheartened by their calling me nothing but master, and by their showing me into the kitchen, where the landlady was sitting at a table and complaining much of the toothache. The compassion I expressed for her on this account, as a stranger, seemed soon to recommend me to her favour, and she herself asked me if I would not stay the night there? To this I most readily assented; and thus I was again happy in a lodging for another night.
The company I here met with consisted of a female chimney-sweeper and her children, who, on my sitting down in the kitchen, soon drank to my health, and began a conversation with me and the landlady.
She related to us her history, which I am not ashamed to own I thought not uninteresting. She had married early, but had the hard luck to be soon deprived of her husband, by his being pressed as a soldier. She neither saw nor heard of him for many years, so concluded he was dead. Thus destitute, she lived seven years as a servant in Ireland, without any one's knowing that she was married. During this time her husband, who was a chimney-sweeper, came back to England and settled at Lichfield, resumed his old trade, and did well in it. As soon as he was in good circumstances, he everywhere made inquiry for his wife, and at last found out where she was, and immediately fetched her from Ireland. There surely is something pleasing in this constancy of affection in a chimney-sweeper. She told us, with tears in her eyes, in what a style of grandeur he had conducted her into Lichfield; and how, in honour to her, he made a splendid feast on the occasion. At this same Lichfield, which is only two miles from Sutton, and through which she said the road lay which I was to travel to-morrow, she still lived with this same excellent husband, where they were noted for their industry, where everybody respected them, and where, though in the lowest sphere, they are passing through life neither uselessly nor unhappily.
The landlady, during her absence, told me as in confidence, that this chimney-sweeper's husband, as meanly as I might fancy she now appeared, was worth a thousand pounds, and that without reckoning in their plate and furniture, that he always wore his silver watch, and that when he passed through Sutton, and lodged there, he paid like a nobleman.
She further remarked that the wife was indeed rather low-lived; but that the husband was one of the best-behaved, politest, and civilest men in the world. I had myself taken notice that this same dingy companion of mine had something singularly coarse and vulgar in her pronunciation. The word old, for example, she sounded like auld. In other respects, I had not yet remarked any striking variety or difference from the pronunciation of Oxford or London.
To-morrow the chimney-sweeper, said she, her husband, would not be at home, but if I came back by the way of Lichfield, she would take the liberty to request the honour of a visit, and to this end she told me her name and the place of her abode.
At night the rest of the family, a son and daughter of the landlady, came home, and paid all possible attention to their sick mother. I supped with the family, and they here behaved to me as if we had already lived many years together.
Happening to mention that I was, if not a scholar, yet a student, the son told me there was at Sutton a celebrated grammar-school, where the school-master received two hundred pounds a year settled salary, besides the income arising from the scholars.
And this was only in a village. I thought, and not without some shame and sorrow, of our grammar-schools in Germany, and the miserable pay of the masters.
When I paid my reckoning the next morning, I observed the uncommon difference here and at Windsor, Nettlebed, and Oxford. At Oxford I was obliged to pay for my supper, bed, and breakfast at least three shillings, and one to the waiter. I here paid for my supper, bed, and breakfast only one shilling, and to the daughter, whom I was to consider as chambermaid, fourpence; for which she very civilly thanked me, and gave me a written recommendation to an inn at Lichfield, where I should be well lodged, as the people in Lichfield were, in general, she said, very proud. This written recommendation was a masterpiece of orthography, and showed that in England, as well as elsewhere, there are people who write entirely from the ear, and as they pronounce. In English, however, it seems to look particularly odd, but perhaps that may be the case in all languages that are not native.
I took leave here, as one does of good friends, with a certain promise that on my return I would certainly call on them again.
At noon I got to Lichfield, an old-fashioned town with narrow dirty streets, where for the first time I saw round panes of glass in the windows. The place to mime wore an unfriendly appearance; I therefore made no use of my recommendation, but went straight through, and only bought some bread at a baker's, which I took along with me.
At night I reached Burton, where the famous Burton ale is brewed. By this time I felt myself pretty well tired, and therefore proposed to stay the night here. But my courage failed me, and I dropped the resolution immediately on my entering the town. The houses and everything else seemed to wear as grand an appearance, almost, as if I had been still in London. And yet the manners of some of its inhabitants were so thoroughly rustic and rude, that I saw them actually pointing at me with their fingers as a foreigner. And now, to complete my chagrin and mortification, I came to a long street, where everybody on both sides of the way were at their doors, and actually made me run the gauntlet through their inquiring looks. Some even hissed at me as I passed along. All my arguments to induce me to pluck up my courage, such as the certainty that I should never see these people again nor they me, were of no use. Burton became odious and almost insupportable to me; and the street appeared as long and tired me as much, as if I had walked a mile. This strongly-marked contemptuous treatment of a stranger, who was travelling through their country merely from the respect he bore it, I experienced nowhere but at Burton.
How happy did I feel when I again found myself out of their town, although at that moment I did not know where I should find a lodging for the night, and was, besides, excessively tired. But I pursued my journey, and still kept in the road to Derby, along a footpath which I knew to be right. It led across a very pleasant mead, the hedges of which were separated by stiles, over which I was often obliged to clamber. When I had walked some distance without meeting with an inn on the road, and it had already begun to be dark, I at last sat me down near a small toll-house, or a turnpike-gate, in order to rest myself, and also to see whether the man at the turnpike could and would lodge me.
After I had sat here a considerable time, a farmer came riding by, and asked me where I wanted to go? I told him I was so tired that I could go no farther. On this the good-natured and truly hospitable man, of his own accord and without the least distrust, offered to take me behind him on his horse and carry me to a neighbouring inn, where he said I might stay all night.
The horse was a tall one, and I could not easily get up. The turnpike-man, who appeared to be quite decrepid and infirm, on this came out. I took it for granted, however, that he who appeared to have hardly sufficient strength to support himself could not help
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